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Progress continues on new city downtown library

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Since breaking ground in summer 2010, construction crews working on the city's new Central Library project have built up to the fourth floor, one official connected to the project said.

"It's really unbelievable," said Mel Katz, chairman of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, which raises money for all 36 city libraries.

"The lobby is three stories, with a big courtyard. The reading room is three levels. Two levels of underground parking is finished. This project is happening."

The opening date of July 2013 is still on schedule, said Darren Greenhalgh, deputy director of the architectural, engineering and parks division of the city Public Works Department.

During an official ceremony in July 2010, Mayor Jerry Sanders described the project as "one that symbolizes the value we place on learning and represents our aspiration for future generations of San Diegans."

Located on 11th Avenue and Park Boulevard the new Central Library, when complete, will stand nine stories tall and measure 295,000 square feet -- double the size of the existing central library, which dates back to the 1950s and is located on E Street.

When finished, the new library will feature 400 computer workstations, a cafe and gathering spaces for cultural or artistic events.

Construction should be finished in January 2013, but six months is needed to move books and staff members, Greenhalgh added.

Carmen Vann, a project executive with Turner Construction, said the project is on schedule.

"We've had no major hiccups," Vann said. "Pre-planning efforts have paid off. We're still (on) our completion date. We've tried to build it as efficiently as possible (on building) the dome."

Vann said construction crews have worked well with city staff and the local architectural firm, Rob Wellington Quigley.

"There's always going to be those little nuances that you encounter, but nothing considered a challenge," she added. "Any issues have been quickly and easily solved."

Quigley himself described the project design "as intact and on schedule."

"The construction is far enough along for me to believe that the finished building will be exactly like the renderings with the entire program intact," he added, in an e-mail response.

Ground was broken for the downtown library project in August 2010.

Not long after, electrical and plumbing crews arrived.

Greenhalgh said workers found a little more contaminated soil than expected, but all suspect soil has been removed.

Greenhalgh said the project remains within budget, costing roughly $184.9 million.

According to an earlier report, the city has already secured $80 million in downtown redevelopment dollars, a $20 million grant from the state Librarian’s Office, a $20 million lease for a new charter school and $63 million in private donations, of which approximately $30.8 million has already been raised.

"I think this is truly a public private partnership, without any money from the city's general fund, new taxes or any bonding," Katz said. "When you look at downtown right now, you only see three sets of cranes," adding that includes the new City College project.

Despite city budget and other economic woes, Katz said the new library is "going to show that projects can get done in San Diego."

Katz said there is "a whole list of naming opportunities," for the library, and added officials are talking with many donors naming the main building, courtyard and other facilities.

"We've had very good discussions, but nothing has happened yet," he said, adding he could not name potential donors.

The San Diego Unified School District is leasing two floors for a charter high school, and will pay the difference if it wants something special, in accordance with the City Council's request.

On Aug. 3, after reviewing four proposals, the San Diego Unified School District was scheduled to vote on who should operate the charter high school.

Greenhalgh said he is not sure what will happen with the existing library.

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