Task force pushes for modernized Los Altos library

Los Altos library
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos main library patrons walk to a facility that some supporters say is too small for the amount of use it gets.

Parents and caretakers who regularly attend the Los Altos main library’s story-time sessions know better than to show up late. But that doesn’t soften the blow when safety-minded librarians have to enforce the perpetually overflowing Orchard Room’s 100-person maximum capacity.

“I would turn a child away with their parent, and there would be tears in the child’s eyes,” said community librarian Marlene Iwamoto. “And that just was really difficult. By the time I was at the fifth child, I was ready to cave in and say, ‘Just come in and enjoy.’”

Such emotional exchanges could be a scenario of the past if a library redevelopment task force proceeds with a proposal to replace the aging, 28,000-square-foot San Antonio Road facility with a new, two-story structure of at least 40,000 square feet. Last week, members of the North County Library Authority (NCLA), a joint powers agreement between the cities of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, presented plans from its task force to the Los Altos Hills City Council, and all five council members affirmed verbal support for the project. Later this month, the task force will pursue similar approval from the Los Altos City Council.

“I’m excited to send a message to Los Altos that Los Altos Hills, as one of the two cities in the JPA, has unanimous support moving forward, and let’s see where we go with this,” said Courtenay C. Corrigan, who serves as both a Hills council member and as president of the NCLA.

Aging facility

Constructed in 1964, Los Altos’ main branch is the oldest in the Santa Clara County system, and the facility would not meet current building codes, according to the task force.

The building is well maintained, but there isn’t enough room to accommodate in-demand programming for all ages, Iwamoto said. Some gatherings for seniors, for example, have been sacrificed for children’s story-time sessions, now offered six days a week instead of two due to their immense popularity.

Task force member Steve Katz, a Los Altos resident who often cares for his grandchildren, bemoaned the state of the Orchard Room, the only public meeting space at the location.

“I would go to story time, and the library staff was amazing. The room was not amazing,” Katz said. “You’d have little kids sitting shoulder-to-shoulder.”

Construction of the new library would require a bond measure approved by two-thirds of voters. A survey of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills residents meant to gauge support for a bond measure indicated approximately 62 percent approval and the ability to raise between $40 million and $55 million through it and through private donations, according to task force members. Already, approximately $2 million is in hand thanks to the bequests of Virginia Whipple and Corinne Oberlin, longtime library supporters.

With green lights from both city councils, task force members can retain an outreach consultant, develop an outreach campaign, finalize the budget and launch a fundraising campaign. They hope to incorporate the bond measure into the 2020 general election. After that, the design phase of the project would take between two and two and a half years, meaning construction wouldn’t begin until 2023 at the earliest.

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