By Ken Williams | Editor
Construction set for new library
Sometime next April, a wrecking ball will begin demolishing the old IBEW building at the corner of Washington and Front streets, signaling the beginning of construction on the long-awaited Mission Hills-Hillcrest library.
Todd Gloria, in the waning days of serving out his two terms as District 3 council member before he heads to Sacramento as the newly elected District 78 assembly member, presided over a small ceremony on Nov. 22 to announce the plans and show off the $20 million library’s architectural design.
“Our old Mission Hills branch library has dutifully served the Uptown community for more than 50 years,” Gloria said. “The growing populations in Uptown now necessitate a new, expanded, and modern facility that can meet the diverse needs of its residents and serve our city for generations. That is exactly what the new Mission Hills-Hillcrest library will do.”
At 14,350 square feet, the new library will have 10,000 square feet more space than at the beloved but cramped Mission Hills branch located at 925 W. Washington St. The new library will be built about six blocks east on Washington Street, with the entrance to an underground parking garage on the rear of the dead-end section of Front Street. The parking garage will provide 85 spaces, which will be 76 more spots than at the current library.
The design by local architects Mosher Drew evokes the spirit of historic Mission Hills with Craftsman-like styling using stone and exposed wood rafters underneath green corrugated metal roofs. North-facing windows will offer sweeping views of Washington Street.
A formal groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for next April. The new facility will be formally named the Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Branch Library.
“Who are Harley and Bessie Knox?” Gloria asked rhetorically as several dozen people gathered on Nov. 22 in a busy parking lot behind the IBEW building.
Gloria said Harley Knox was mayor of San Diego from 1943 to 1951, including during a time when America was at war and the city was a crucial hub of military activity. Bessie Knox was his wife, and together they worked tirelessly to make San Diego a better place.
“He’s kind of like the last of the innocent mayors. He tried to do everything good for the city,” Knox’s biographer Iris Engstrand once wrote.
That theme of doing good was echoed by other speakers.
Phyllis Marion, president of the Friends of Mission Hills-Hillcrest Library, thanked her group for working tirelessly for the past 20 years to turn a dream into a reality. “Todd Gloria has been our champion for the past eight years,” she said.
District 3 Councilmember-elect Chris Ward vowed to get the library built in a timely manner. “We owe Todd a debt of gratitude” for his advocacy toward building the new library and the Hillcrest fire station as well as getting the Uptown Community Plan Update finally approved, Ward said.
On Nov. 1, Gloria, Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fennessy and other officials broke ground on the $9.2 million Hillcrest fire station. And on Nov. 14, the City Council voted 7-2 to approve the Uptown Community Plan update.
The city purchased the IBEW building in 2004, and rents out the parking lot. The ceremony was interrupted twice to allow motorists to exit the parking lot, drawing laughter from the audience as Gloria grabbed the lectern and got out of the way of the cars.
Gloria told those gathered that the library project was fully funded, but was later corrected by Jay Hill, CEO of the San Diego Library Foundation. “Only construction is fully funded,” Hill said, adding that library patrons and philanthropists are encouraged to make donations to supply other necessities to get the new facility up and running.
Hill said there would be a garden and a patio inside the library complex, where “there would be great naming opportunities” as well as tiles and bricks to memorialize people who donate to the library.
Like other speakers, Hill praised Gloria for being “a great champion for libraries” and noted that the council member was interim mayor when the iconic Central Library opened Downtown.
Hill said the new Mission Hills-Hillcrest library “will continue the renaissance of our library system.”
Library Director Misty Jones lauded the existing library, which opened in 1961, as “small and mighty” but looked forward to expanded services at the new location. The 3,850-square-foot library will remain open until the new library opens, and the city will soon decide a future use for the old facility.
Jones touted the new library’s features, including children and teen areas, a study space, a computer lab, a community meeting room, and a Friend’s of the Library room. The building will be “very green,” or environmentally friendly, and constructed according to LEED Gold standards. The landscaping around the library and the cul-de-sac will be drought tolerant, officials said.
To conclude the press conference, the dignitaries unveiled a banner to mark the next stage in this Public Works project, which will be suspended atop the IBEW building until it is demolished next spring.
On Nov. 23, the San Diego Foundation announced that $10 million in grants from the Hervey Family Fund and the Harley and Bessie Knox Memorial Fund at The San Diego Foundation will go toward the construction of the new library.
To join the Friends group, a 501(c)(3) corporation, call 619-692-4910 during library hours to leave a message. Donations are tax deductible.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at @KenSanDiego, Instagram at @KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.