Atascadero library relocation project hits major milestone

Grenda Ernst has been waiting 25 years for enough funds to be raised to bring a more spacious library to Atascadero. That milestone came Thursday when she received a message that the final check had been dropped off at San Luis Obispo County offices.

It “felt like floating on a cloud for me,” said Ernst, president of Friends of the Atascadero Library. Her group has been fundraising since 1988.

The $1,231,101 check was the last of the library group’s share in a joint project with the county to move from Morro Road to a larger, now empty, 20,000-square-foot building at 655 Capistrano Ave. in downtown Atascadero. It included $30,000 from the city — which was the last cash infusion the group needed.

The county will have 32 percent of the space and create a North County Services Center on part of the second floor. The county offices portion brings the cost of the overall project up to $8.4 million.

The $5.7 million library portion of the building will double the size of the current library and add areas for youth programs and more computers with public Internet access.

The goal is to start the project in March, with plans to open late this year as part of the city’s centennial. The county is reviewing the construction bids and plans to recommend one to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 26.

“It’s just so gratifying,” Ernst said of the support that the community has shown for the expanded library fundraiser, which heated up with a 2009 capital campaign.

“I think it says a lot about the importance people put on culture and education. And, reading is the foundation of what’s good in our society,” she said.

Fundraising agreements called on the Friends of the Library to generate about half of the library’s cost by Dec. 29, 2012, two years after the county bought the empty office building. The library group fell short of that deadline with several fundraisers still under way, so it was granted a six-month extension to come up with the funds — which it now has. Other funds gathered will go toward a contingency fund, fixtures and furniture, Ernst said.

On Tuesday, the Atascadero City Council agreed to advance the library $30,000 in fees that builders pay the city when they build a new home or commercial project. That money was part of the $1.23 million check.

In 2010, the city had given about $200,000 in such funds to the library project. This time, though, since there weren’t enough builder fees to give more, the council agreed to borrow the sum from the city’s sewer fund, a move the city has previously proposed for other projects. 

The city figures it will take one to three years to repay itself. Every time a new home is built in Atascadero, for example, $500 goes to the library account. It could repay itself all at once, however, if a large commercial venture such as the Walmart project — approved but tied up in lawsuits — moves ahead. Walmart is slated to pay $33,944 in library builder fees.

Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter and checking out facebook.com/SLOTribuneNorthCounty.