Fresno County's Central Library is slated for a makeover that seeks to turn the tired, 54-year-old complex into a 21st century information and technology hub.
The plan is to replace the site's vintage floor tiles, wood bookshelves and 1950s furniture with new computers, contemporary shelving and high-tech services, such as an audio-video production studio.
"The library is really a very lovely building," county Librarian Laurel Prysiazny said of the structure in downtown Fresno. "We want to give it the modernization it deserves."
While completion of the upgrades remains at least a year out, library officials have begun preparations. Last week, they won approval from the Board of Supervisors to purchase an $800,000 property in east-central Fresno where up to 50 Central Library administrative employees are expected to move to free up space in the downtown complex.
According to library plans, as much as 15,000 square feet of what are now upstairs offices at the Central Library will become a teen center, providing books and technology to kids and a discovery center open to anyone pursuing activities such as arts and crafts, robotics and video production.
The renovation also will include expansion of the first-floor computer lab and improvements to the newly named San Joaquin Valley History and Genealogy Center. The center already is seeing changes, including a new layout, and it eventually will add a temperature-controlled archival vault.
Change in plans
The upgrades come as the county abandons plans to build a new library downtown.
A proposal put forth in 2005 called for a five-story complex with a 350-seat auditorium and career center, at a price of nearly $100 million. The preferred location was behind the former Fresno Metropolitan Museum in the city's cultural arts district.
"Just about the time we were getting ready to move forward with this, the Great Recession hit and the whole thing was just shelved," said Karen Bosch-Cobb, who served as librarian from 2003 to 2010.
Prysiazny said continued financial strain has taken plans for a new library officially off the table. She wants to move forward now with improvements at the old library, which had been put on hold when the new complex seemed imminent.
One of the driving forces for the renovation is a new fire control and sprinkler system urged by the Fresno Fire Department.
The Central Library is the 34-branch system's third-busiest location. Woodward Park and Clovis are the busiest branches.
Library officials don't know the exact cost of work at the downtown site, but they expect it to be several million dollars. The expense is anticipated to be covered through the local library sales tax, Measure B, as well as state and federal grants.
The upgrades are likely to be done in stages, officials say, with the first step being relocation of administrative employees out of the Central Library.
Last week, county supervisors authorized the library's purchase of an old postal depot on 5.3 acres at 5435 Olive Ave. for $800,000. The site is intended to be the new administrative home of the library system.
The site also would house the system's maintenance and delivery services, which currently are done at the Central Library and elsewhere.
Library officials remain in negotiations with the owner of the Olive Avenue property about the sale. Best-case scenario, officials say, is that their purchase offer is accepted soon and they close on the property in October.
If the property doesn't work out, Prysiazny said, library officials will act quickly to find another suitable space.
Supervisor Henry Perea, whose district includes the library branch, supports plans for the downtown complex.
"We're happy to improve this venue," Perea said. "Any time we can increase resources for people, it's a good thing."
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