In a ceremony held on a Main Library lawn that will soon become a new multipurpose public program room, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd on Tuesday officially broke ground on a $17.7 million project to renovate the facility.
The project is set to be completed in December of 2014.
"Today is a great day because it's sort of the beginning of the end," Shepherd said. "It's the last project of the libraries and to take our libraries into the 21st century."
The new library will feature a host of modern amenities, including a 4,000-square-foot addition that will house four group-study rooms and a teen center. The facility will also receive a new electrical system to handle the computer needs of residents. Skylights in the ceiling, which were made in the 1980s, will be removed and the roof line will be restored to its original condition.
A new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system will also be installed to make the library more energy efficient, a requirement if the library is to get Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Forty-nine wells will be drilled in the east parking lot to a depth of 350 feet in order to provide the library with heating and cooling by pumping fluid into the wells and then circulating it back into the library.
"Adding air conditioning will be a huge benefit because there have been times when we've closed the library because it's too hot," said Library Director Monique le Conge. "And if it's too hot in the public area it's been too hot in the staff area for a much longer time."
The library will also have much of its south entrance changed to facilitate a more natural-looking link with the Art Center.
"It's going to be very connected with the Arts center," said Carol Kenyon, a member of the Palo Alto Arts Center Board of Directors.
A new road will allow for cars to move from the east parking lot to the south parking lot. Currently cars must drive around the library on Newell in order to get from one parking lot to the other.
While the renovation of the Main Library begins, projects at Mitchell Park Library and Community Center site on the other side of town have been fraught with delays. Work at Mitchell Park was scheduled to be completed in April 2012, but continuous setbacks have forced the City to redo parts of the work and push the date back to the end of 2013.
Shepherd said she thought the Main Library project would mirror the College Terrace Library more than the Mitchell Park library, where the entire structure was completely demolished and built from scratch.
She told the Weekly she was confident that the project would be completed on time and on budget.
According to Matt Raschke, the City project manager for the Main Library, the renovation will be difficult because contractors have to work around much of the historic structure, which must remain intact. This creates the challenge of retrofitting a structure built in 1958 for today's technological needs and seismic requirements.
"Everyone knows that it's easier to build from scratch than peel everything out, and gut and put it all back again," Shepherd said.