The Fullerton City Council unanimously approved the applicant recommended by a review panel to begin engagement with the city about providing programming and renovations to the Hunt Branch Library campus. A joint proposal by Heritage Future and ArtsOC received the support of all five members of the council, but not before at least two other applicants complained about what they perceived as an opaque selection process by the committee who reviewed the responses to the city’s Request for Proposals (RFP).
Several speakers representing Access California, who scored third of the eight applicants, asked the council to continue the decision to a future meeting. Council member Jesus Silva countered with a concern that the $2.5 million state grant secured by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (his wife) for restoration and upgrades to the facility might not be available for an indefinite period, and instead urged a timely decision by the council that night.
Council member Ahmad Zahra suggested that the motion to approve Heritage Future/ArtsOC should include a backup inclusion of the second highest scoring applicant, but that effort was sidelined. Zahra ultimately joined the other four members in voting in favor of the winning application without the runner up a provision.
Eight different organizations responded to the RFP issued last November by the city to solicit programming proposals for the site. A five member panel that included members of the Library Ad Hoc Committee reviewed the proposals following direction by the council in March. The proposals were not available to the public. The Heritage Future/Arts Orange County proposal only became available when it was included on the council’s June 2 agenda.
Arts OC is a non-profit arts advocacy group founded twenty years ago at a time when such an organization was lacking in the county. Nearly every major, and most minor, arts organization in OC is a member of the group, which advocates for arts funding and support and provides organizational and other services to both local governments and constituent members. For many years they have managed the Imagination Celebration in Orange County.
Heritage Future was founded by Kevin Staniec, a writer, publisher, and arts impresario who founded and directs the 1888 literary space in Orange and has organized exhibitions for the City of Irvine’s Great Park gallery for many years, and before that, worked for the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.
The joint proposal envisions utilizing the historic Hunt Branch Library as an arts and literacy presentation and educational space. Staniec would serve as the program team leader, while Arts OC would help to conceive, plan, and implement programs for the space and grounds. The proposal also includes architect Robert Young, who would direct use of $2.5 million in state funding for renovations and restoration of the building.
ArtsOC/Heritage Future released the following statement about their plans for the Hunt:
“The Hunt Library is one of Orange County’s most important historic buildings, a masterpiece of Mid-Century Modern design by one of the foremost architects of that era and of our region, William L. Pereira. It needs to be lovingly preserved—but it also needs to become a welcoming place in which everyone in the community takes pride of ownership and where its use celebrates not only the building’s legacy, but also the heritage and cultures of all of Fullerton’s residents. Arts Orange County, which plays a vital role in assisting local cities with their strategic arts and culture planning, and Heritage Future, an innovator in creative placemaking and programming, are inspired by the limitless possibilities presented by the Hunt Library Literacy and Cultural Innovation Programmatic Partnership, and look forward to working with the City of Fullerton and the community.”
The city will now, according to the agenda report, “begin work with the selected provider to finalize both physical improvements needed at the site in order to utilize a $2.5 million State appropriation secured by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and create a partnership agreement outlining the terms of operations and services for the future of providing the priorities as outlined by the Hunt Branch Library Ad Hoc Committee. The agreement will be brought back to the City Council for approval.”
What oversight the Library Board of Trustees will have of the project is unclear, but the state grant requires that the site retain some aspect of library use. The Board was not consulted about the choice of respondents to the city’s RFP.
The council’s approval of a partner to present new programming the facility marks a milestone in the efforts to save the Hunt form being sold as surplus property. Once a second branch of the Fullerton Public Library, the Hunt has been closed since 2013 because the city council has repeatedly declined to fund its operation as a library. The facility is currently leased to Grace Mission University, a division of Grace Ministries International, who purchased the adjoining Hunt business property for their church and added additional structures to their property.
Grace Mission University, also submitted a proposal to utilize the site, scoring at number 5 of the 8 submitted proposals. The next to highest score was received for a proposal called Hunt Library Gardens, which reportedly included a plan to build senior housing on the site near the library. Other proposals were submitted by Arborland (who operate a private school in Amerige Heights), Farook Zia & Associates, The Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Bonnie Hall, an arts administer and consultant.
For more information about efforts to revive and protect the Hunt Branch Library, please visit SaveTheHunt.com.