Slowly but surely the new North Beach Library is finally coming together after nearly five years of the project facing criticism and complaints being brought to city hall but the Board of Supervisors silenced the naysayers in 2011.
The 8,500-square-foot, triangular building coming together on the corner of Lombard Street and Columbus Avenue was planned over a decade ago as part of the Branch Library Improvement Program but it wasn’t until two years ago did the project get the green light to start construction after the Board of Supervisors approved the Environmental Impact Report for the North Beach Library and Joe DiMaggio Playground project when it was certified.
“I think what we are very much looking forward to is a bigger, more accessible library,” Michelle Jeffers, the San Francisco public relations officer said. “The new North Beach branch will be 60 percent larger than the existing building and will have a great children’s designated section, plus a program room for library events.”
In an email sent to Deputy City Librarian Luis Herrera, Almer Castillo responded on his behalf. “The project is going extremely well and is 60 percent complete.” It is set to open in April 2014.
The current North Beach branch doesn’t provide ADA accessibility so most of the events occur at the Joe DiMaggio Clubhouse next door. The new two-story design by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects incorporates the accessibility needed. The new branch will also provide a larger and updated collection of books, CDs and DVDs. The expansion modernizes the library in a way that keeps up with technology today. Audio and visual equipment in the program room will be state of the art and the children’s area will have interactive learning features. The library will provide over 18 computers and 10 laptops for public use with access to Wi-Fi.
In October 2009, the Historic Preservation Commission attempted to have the current branch that opened in 1959 designed by Appleton & Wolfard Architects designated as a historical landmark but it was denied the legislation on Nov. 9, 2010.
One person with the Coalition for a Better North Beach Library and Playground and Friends of Appleton-Wolfard Libraries who strongly voiced his opposition toward the project for many years still feels they are doing an injustice to the library and playground.
“Let’s preserve Columbus Avenue as a necklace of green spaces and historic buildings with great public vistas,” Howard Wong said in an email. “The triangle open space, historic mid-century modernist library, Joe DiMaggio Playground and honorable governance are too important for future generations.”
“There have been no problems with the construction. And we haven’t heard from any opposition in quite some time,” Jeffers said. “I believe there is still an appeal pending on the EIR and approval of the project, after San Francisco Public Library prevailed in Superior Court about the validity of the environmental review and board approval.”
The new North Beach Library is part of the $105.9 million bond approved by San Francisco voters in November 2000. The Branch Library Improvement Program is for the reconstruction and rebuilding of 24 libraries in the city to make them more accessible for people with disabilities, seismically safe and provide the public with modern technology. North Beach is the last branch nearing completion.
The new branch will feature public art by local artist Bill Fontana. The San Francisco Arts Commission elected community representatives to choose an artist whose work would be featured as part of the library. Fontana’s art proposal won against two other artists in 2011. He is putting together a sound installation that will wrap around the outside of the library giving visitors something new to experience. It will play a collective mix of sounds from around the North Beach neighborhood and will change everyday.
Funding for the BLIP doesn’t include furnishings and other equipment necessary for the upcoming library. As part of the Neighborhood Library Campaign, the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library are accepting donations to provide the public the proper amenities needed at the North Beach branch. For those who want to contribute to the campaign, Friends is holding a reception next month at the Tosca Café along Columbus Avenue on Jan. 13.