City Council received an update on the Hunt Branch Library on July 19 from City staff as well as ArtsOC, a possible program partner for future use of this City-owned building at 201 S Basque Ave.
City Manager Eric Levitt said that ArtsOC is still interested but Heritage Future is not. Council gave Levitt direction to reach out informally with other potential program partners for use of the Hunt, which is currently closed to the public.
Richard Stein, president and CEO of ArtsOC gave a presentation on the community outreach his group has done and the vision that emerged from this.
As a result of a contract with the City, ArtsOC conducted 36 stakeholder interviews, hosted three visioning sessions with over 100 attendees, and received 803 responses to an online survey.
Stein shared highlights from the program proposal, which included a mission statement: To provide programs that are accessible, adaptable, and designed to evolve and fit the needs of the community.
The proposal included ideas for how to utilize the space of the Hunt for providing community programs including:
—Partner with a local cafe/catering company to provide administrative staff, daily operations, and revenue to support community programming.
—Collaborate with academic institutions and local nonprofits to execute a series of community discussions, lectures, and workshops with an emphasis on literacy, urban agriculture, community engagement, education, technology and innovation, entrepreneurship, business and workforce development.
—Connect with artists, galleries, museums, and local art groups to curate exhibitions, festivals, performances, and screenings.
Stein said that the plan is for the Hunt Library operation to be sustainable after a three-to-five-year launch period, but that their financial model depends on the City providing major building maintenance, groundskeeping, parking lot and driveway maintenance, and library services.
Following Stein’s presentation, City engineer Stephen Bise gave a presentation on current and upcoming building improvements to the Hunt which were funded by State grants secured by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and State Senator Josh Newman. Here is the proposed renovation plan:
Phase I—Roof Replacement: Includes rehabilitation of the building roof, new insulated foam, and communication conduits/pathways. Construction timeline: July 18 to Sept. 21.
Phase II—Sewer and Water Line Replacement: Includes installation of new water line, water meter, backflow preventer, fire hydrant, and sewer line. Has been completed.
Phase III—Building Repairs: Includes all proposed building renovations, minus the roof. Interior improvements proposed include enhancements to bring the site in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), finish and structural repairs, mechanical, electrical, lighting, communication, security, and plumbing upgrades, and measures to mitigate hazardous materials. Construction anticipated to begin in late September and continue through May 2023.
Phase IV—Security fencing/gates: Includes 8-foot steel square frame/pickets, automatic vehicular gates at Basque Avenue, and pedestrian gates at Basque Avenue and Pacific Park. Construction anticipated to begin in late September and continue through November.
Phase V—Site Improvements: Includes modification and restriping of the parking lot to accommodate fire ingress/egress, modification to parking lot lighting, improved accessibility to/from the building, a new trash enclosure, minor irrigation/landscape modifications, and perimeter fencing/gates. Construction anticipated for mid-2023.
Interim Security Measures
Given the extensive recent vandalism of the Hunt Library, including the destruction of dozens of windows, staff reported on the completion of the following interim security measures:
• Maintain, monitor, and respond to alarm system
• Installed temporary fencing at Commonwealth pump station. Unfortunately it is getting cut quite frequently—it is a maintenance burden. We are monitoring it daily.
• Installed barriers from Pacific Park to Hunt parking lot.
• Painted the wood black (installed in place of broken windows).
• Installed vehicular chain gates at Basque Avenue and northerly rail access location.
• Removed all contents from the building.
Many residents and community leaders who have been involved in recent efforts to revitalize and re-open the Hunt spoke to council.
“We need this project not to die,” Egleth Nuncci said. “We’ve seen so many centers in our community closed…We have the funds and we have the people who support you. Please make this possible.”
Carime Calixto, a volunteer with the Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, said, “We really need this in our neighborhood.”
Molly McClanahan, who served on the Hunt Library Ad Hoc Committee, said that a priority policy of the Hunt Library should be to build community, that the first priority needs to be to protect and secure the building, and that the City needs to be more of a partner in helping to fund the Hunt.
Ellen Ballard, who is on the Library Board of trustees said that the new Request for Proposals the City was about to send out is not what the community expected or even desired. She cautioned against starting the process over and instead working with stakeholders for the best outcome.
Barbara Kilponen, who was also on the Ad Hoc Committee that worked to establish goals and priorities for future uses of the Hunt and helped to select ArtsOC and Heritage Future as program partners, said the City ought to help pay for the maintenance and security of the building.
Jane Reifer from the group Save the Hunt, which was instrumental in preventing the City from selling the building, said that security should be the top priority.
“The date for the fence to be installed is two months from now,” Reifer said. “We’ve already had breaches.”
Councilmember Jesus Silva asked the City engineer if they can expedite the construction of the new fence.
City engineer Bise said, “There are certain requirements with procurement with State funds. We have to follow those. We plan to bring it back by August to begin by September.”
Silva suggested shifting a library security guard to the Hunt in the evenings. City Manager Eric Levitt said the City could hire an interim security guard until the new fencing goes up.
Councilmember Nick Dunlap said, “I want to be mindful of the fact that we’re not fully funding our own library here and so we need to be careful to take on additional expenses.”
Councilmember Ahmad Zahra said, “The arts and education programs in the City are crucial and are underfunded because we as a Council have underfunded them…We control the budget. We have the ability to move funds around. We received a very substantial funding from the federal government, from ARPA funds, and we decided to allocate them in certain ways.”
Zahra was referring, in part, to 2.5% across-the-board budget cuts in both last year’s and this year’s budget that a Council majority supported but he did not support.
Zahra added that there needs to be more clarity with the Request for Proposals that the City sends out to potential partners, and there needs to be better communication with community members who have been involved in the process.
“We talk about creating partnerships, but it seems what we’re doing is just looking for a tenant to unload a building, yet another one,” Zahra said. “We’ve understaffed our city, and then this is the result. We can’t lose a building like this that is such an asset, an historic building, and treat is as just something we want to rent out to cover our costs.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Whitaker said he had requested for the item to be agendized because he was very concerned about “accelerating and increasing destruction of this historic facility.”
Whitaker said he would have liked to have received an update on the extent of the damage that has been done to the building. “When you’re bleeding, you need to put the tourniquet on it. So, the security is very important at this point.”
Mayor Jung responded to Zahra’s statement about budget priorities, saying, “There are so many priorities in this City, it’s important to be measured, to be fair, and allocate the funding accordingly across the board.”
Jung gave direction to staff to “advance security of this property without delay and to move forward on finding a partner to open this treasured building to the public once more, in a deliberate manner, inviting all the public and ad hoc community to have input and move us forward accordingly.”
Councilmember Silva agreed with Zahra and said, “We’ve so understaffed our departments, our parks and rec, our public works, that we’re not able to get out there and maintain and manage these facilities.”
Silva said he didn’t want to see the Hunt revitalization stalled for years, as has happened with other projects in Fullerton such as the Fox Theater. “We’ve got to get this project going,” Silva said. “We need to save it and open it up sooner rather than later.”
Councilmember Dunlap made a motion to approve staff recommendations to initially pursue an informal Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Tenant/Operator that meets the needs of the community at the Hunt Library.
According to a staff report, “This would initially entail reaching out to local entities who may be a good fit for the partnership and have or have the ability to create the financial resources to make this a successful partnership.”
This motion passed 4-1 (Zahra “no”). Zahra said he felt the first step needs to be better communication with groups like the Ad Hoc committee and community members who have been involved in the process.
The Hunt Library is considered a masterpiece of the mid-century modern style by one of the premier architects of that style, William Pereira. It was built in 1962 and gifted to the City by industrialist Norton Simon.
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