Ortega Library Design Unveiled

By Karen M. Kinney

On Jan 26, the Branch Library Improvement Program unveiled its latest design for a new 8,500-square-foot building to house the Ortega Branch Library. Besides better access to the main entrance and ocean views, the new building will contain a designated teen area, expanded children's and preschool programs, and add to the adult book and computer sections.

In November 2000, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition A, a bond measure that provided $106 million for upgrading San Francisco's branch library system. In November 2007, they passed Proposition D, authorizing additional funding.

In March 2007, the SF Library Commission voted to increase the budget of the Ortega Branch from $3.4 million to $7.9 million in order to build a new branch, rather than renovating the existing building. The pricetag does not include furniture and equipment.

According to Luis Herrera, city librarian of the SF Public Library, the priorities of the new Ortega Library are improving seismic safety, providing better access into and around the building for the disabled and all community members, and modernizing library resources to accommodate the technological needs of the community.

The current library building will be demolished, except for a small section that is attached to a Rec. and Park building. A heightened security system, including multiple security cameras and better lighting, will oversee a fence accompanied with new trees that replace an old retaining wall that divides a public plaza from the library. A terrace with canopies on the south side will enable people to read outdoors and enjoy the ocean view. A social area with a variety of seating choices will separate the adult area from the teen section, and the children's room will have a place for parents to sit and read with their children.

"The goal of the main floor plan is to have flexibility and open space. Each area is part of a strategic location in order to control all spaces," said Youcef Bouhamama, an architect working on the project.

Interior improvements include adding large windows, an after-hours entrance just for the program room, and 27 computers in a seating area twice the size of the old one. The central area has a service desk to monitor all sections.

Present at the meeting and vocal in her support for the project was SF Supervisor Carmen Chu. She fielded questions from community leaders, such as Leslie Trook, the principal at A.P. Giannini Middle School, whose main concern was where the teens will conjugate after school after construction starts in late 2008.

"In order to meet the needs of the children, in the next year we want to bring in the school district, as well as all entities possible, so we can start to identify where we need more funding and to get ideas for the grand vision of the new library," Chu said.

As the next step, architects will present a design for the library at a public peer review before the Library Commission. A panel of experts, including architects and library managers, will make recommendations about improving the design, which will then be brought back to the community for feedback.

During construction, neighboring branch libraries will have extended hours and the Branch Library Improvement Program will provide a Bookmobile, which will operate two or three days a week. The Bookmobile will offer materials for adults, teens and children; a media collection; and provide services. Books will be available in English and Chinese.

In addition, children's library programs will continue at another location in the neighborhood. Donna Parker, a long-time Sunset resident, is excited about the new library, but wants to see real change.

"The library is the lifeblood of the community. I would like to see a center that is open for all branches of the community and encompasses us all," Parker said.

Proposition A covers the bricks and mortar of the renovation, but city bonds cannot cover furniture, equipment and services provided by the library. Representatives from the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, an independent non-profit organization, will fill the gap by raising $16 million for branch materials citywide.

"Our mission is to advocate for a great library system while providing value to the library's budget," said Marian Chatfield-Taylor, capital campaign manager for Friends. "If money is needed for programs during renovation, Friends will provide the funds."

Friends of the San Francisco Public Library estimates each city branch needs $500,000.

"There will be an equitable distribution so each library gets what it needs," Chatfield-Taylor said.

For more information, visit www.sfpl.org.