Larkspur signs agreement with nonprofit to build library

The Larkspur City Council has inked an agreement with a nonprofit that has pledged to raise $5 million to build a new library, The City Council signed off on the non-binding letter of intent with the Commons Foundation on Nov. 4. The letter gives the foundation about two years to raise the money to build a 5,000-square-foot building that would house one large room, restrooms, IT and utility closets, storage and parking.

Mayor Catherine Way said the council appreciates the foundation’s effort to fund the new library, which will also function as a community center.

“The residents of Larkspur are eager to see one of our most beloved resources, fondly known as the ‘World’s Greatest Little Library,’ get a whole lot bigger and better,” Way said.

City Manager Dan Schwarz said the project is still preliminary. He said there are no detailed designs for the project, to be built on a vacant, city-owned 2.43-acre lot at the corner of Rose Lane and Doherty Drive.

He said once funding is secured then the city will solicit proposals.

“None of us are quite sure, to be honest, what $5 million can achieve in the current economic uncertainty,” Schwarz said. “So it will be interesting to see what kind of responses we get when that money is been pledged and we can move forward.”

So far, the foundation has raised about $900,000 in pledges and cash donations, said Joe Jennings, Commons Foundation president.

Jennings said discussions between the city and the foundation started two years ago. He said the current library attached to City Hall is too small, lacks adequate parking and also has disability access compliance issues.

“It was clear that there is a group of people who love the existing facility,” he said. “But there is a wave of new people moving into the area that want it to be safer, to have better parking … and physical ADA access is a very big deal.

“I started this foundation to raise money to build a new library because I believe it is one of the core foundational elements in our society and its something thats free to the public,” Jennings said. “It’s a place to create community and literacy.”

The project was scaled back from the original plan to build a 20,000-square-foot facility, said Councilman Kevin Haroff. He said it could be expanded in the future, but the city does not want to make a commitment to a larger facility at this time.

“We said we would support it with the understanding that the project cost cannot exceed $5 million,” Haroff said. “We don’t want to create a situation where the city could be viewed being on the hook for excess costs.”

Some residents are concerned about the fate of the current 3,500-square-foot library, which is offering online programming, resources and curbside pickup during the pandemic. Haroff said the future of the current library, which is attached to City Hall, is not clear at this time.

“The library and City Hall are in dire need of renovations,” he said. “I don’t think any decision can be made about what would happen to that existing facility right now.

“We are having to tighten our belt on every front imaginable,” Haroff said. “Particularly with COVID and the economic downturn, that is not going to happen in the near term.”

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