Tuesday night’s special joint meeting of the Porterville City Council and the Library and Literacy Commission delved into the need for a new library facility in the city. 

After a presentation given by INTERNNECT showcasing ideas for a possible future library, the City Council opened the floor for discussion about the project. 

Council member Virginia Gurrola began by stating there’s a need for a new facility, but questioned where the funding for the project would come from. She also said the city has many needs, and the library is just one of those needs.

Council member Monte Reyes followed Gurrola’s thoughts with some of the comparisons to libraries that were presented by INTERNNECT. He stated the Clovis library is a county branch library and has bigger groups and more resources to pull in funds. Referring to the Long Beach library, he said trading land for a building could be risky. As for the Campbell library, Reyes stated the community that uses that library is more affluent than Porterville’s as it has more businesses and more money within the community, and yet it still proved to be difficult for Campbell to move forward with a brand new facility. 

Reyes stated the Friends of the Library organization should, in his opinion, have some type of role in this process and discussion. When it came to the issue of parking around the current library, Reyes stated it isn’t solely a library problem and that most of Main Street suffers from the same shortage of parking space. Reyes said the biggest component of this project would be funding for the project and in his opinion may be difficult to obtain. He questioned whether the project would be funded by the city or through outside sources.

In response to both Council member concerns, Library and Literacy commission members countered with the point there’s still a lack of quiet, study space for students. As most who use the library are aware, the facility isn’t always silent. Many young children partake in activities hosted by the library, and sometimes can be noisy. The commission stated the city is missing out on the opportunity of keeping young adults in the city due to the lack of safe and quiet space to study. The commission was adamant in saying the city must invest in facilities like the library in order to keep younger generations local, and the library serves the entire community.

Reyes added to the discussion by saying the community has a variety of different needs, and maybe a new assessment should be done to figure out what needs the community may currently be facing.

The commission stated that they aren’t asking for a completely new and modern facility, and are open to the idea of refurbishing, expanding or renovating an existing structure. The bottom line is the library just needs more space to accompany the resources it offers to the community, the commission stated. It also expressed interest in forming a foundation board to help this process in the future, but would need Council authorization to begin the process of forming a foundation board. It asked the Council if it would commit to supporting a new or renovated library facility in town.

Mayor Martha Flores inquired as to the current ongoing operating costs of the library, to which City Manager John Lollis stated it was roughly $1.25 million. Lollis also stated a brand new facility would cost upwards of $33 million, wheres as a renovation or refurbishment would be much less.

Flores stated she agreed with the idea of establishing a foundation board to help raise funds for a new facility. She also posed the possibility of the Library and Literacy commission partnering with the Tule River Tribe in the future.

Council member Daniel Penaloza chimed in to say he was proud of the commission for requesting the meeting, and shared his first experiences using the library’s computers as a high school student to write his papers. He then stated the library offers many resources to the community and understand the importance and need for those resources. He commented on the literacy rates of a community and how that can reflect the community’s needs, and if literacy rates were to increase it would have a large impact on the local community. Penaloza continued on to state parks, a community center and the library are important to him, but the budget for the city is limited. He stated he would be committed to the library and its projects moving forward, and the commission may want to look at a sales tax increase measure that would commit local tax revenues to the library.

The commission stated no grants for the project are currently available, but if one comes up it wouldn’t be unable to apply for it as it doesn’t have a current assessment of the facility. It stated it  would need to submit an assessment that has been completed within the last 10 years, but the last assessment was done in 2009.

Reyes suggested maybe outside funding for the project would be beneficial, and the commission responded by stating it wouldn’t be able to accept outside funds without first establishing a foundation board. The commission said it has spoken with the Friends of the Library organization who has said it won’t commit to acting as the foundation board. The commission would need authorization from the Council before it could begin to establish the board.

Gurrola added to the conversation by saying the Council wasn’t saying no to the commission, but it couldn’t take action yet. She asked if a survey had been done through the community in regards to proposing a tax or bond measure. Lollis answered and said a survey was conducted when Measure I was going on the ballot, and the library received a score of a little of 70 percent from community answers about where the funds from the tax measure should go. Lollis recommended if the commission chooses to pursue a bond measure it bring a financial advisor on board to provide an analysis of all potential costs involved in the project and the process. He then questioned as to what site the commission would like to see a new library facility be.

The commission’s response was it would like for the future library to be on city owned land. For demonstration purposes, INTERNNECT had presented its ideas for facilities on a site located north of the Barn Theater on Plano Street. The commission stated it has also been looking at other city owned properties that could accommodate all of its needs.

As the meeting began to come to a close, Gurrola recommended the commission look into remodeling or expanding a current building, or pursue a bond measure.

Flores suggested the commission move forward with establishing a foundation board and update the library’s current assessment.

Reyes stated that, moving forward, a positive light needs to be shined upon this project, and improvements to the library from 2009 to present day should also be taken into account. He said the current library is a functional building that just needs to be babied. Lollis added to Reyes’ statement by saying a recent analysis was done on the current library facility for a restroom renovation project, and the results said the facility wasn’t at any risk. The library will receive roughly $500,000 for renovations to address accessibility issues including the restrooms, elevator and stairs.

Before the meeting adjourned, Penaloza seconded Gurrola’s suggestions on how to proceed in the future, and stated he’d like for this matter to be brought back to the Council. He also requested additional information on the possibility of a bond measure.

Flores thanked the commission for the dialogue and stated it was much needed before adjourning the meeting shortly before 8 p.m.

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