As budget woes have forced other Los Angeles-area public libraries to cut staff and operating hours, West Hollywood has been preparing for the opening of a new $64-million library complex.
The roughly 32,000-square-foot library — six times larger than the old one — will celebrate its official opening Saturday. The library is the result of a partnership between the Los Angeles County library system, which will operate the facility, and the city, which paid for its construction.
"Fortunately, in the wisdom of councils past, the city has been setting aside money for a rainy day for 25 years, so we have stockpiled about $80 million in a capital improvement account," Mayor John Duran said. "The building of a library is an obvious example that the city is doing well."
The library occupies the top two floors of the sleek three-story building that will also house new City Council chambers, a coffee shop and bookstore. In addition, the development will include a 400-space parking garage and an expanded city park.
The construction of the library complex was one phase of an estimated $125-million project. The project is being paid for with a combination of reserves, parking funds and private donor gifts. About $35 million in federal stimulus bonds was used for the library and parking structure, officials said.
The project "shows that the city is maturing, that the city is growing up," Duran said. "When the city first came into being in 1984, a lot of critics said that the city was never going to make it, that we didn't have the economic base to sustain a city government."
"We're one of the few cities in America that's in the black today, so I think the question of whether the city will survive has been answered in the affirmative," he said.
Ironically, the city of 35,000 also benefited from the recession. Contractors' bids for the library complex came in lower than the city anticipated, saving the city roughly $16 million in project costs, said Anil Gandhy, the city's finance director.
"Contractors were hungry for work because there was nothing happening," Gandhy said, "so it was the right timing for the city to bid on this project."
Donor gifts came from a variety of sources. The nonprofit West Hollywood Library Fund raised $7.3 million, said LouAnne Greenwald, campaign manager. Stuart Feigin, a software designer for Oracle Corp. who grew up in West Hollywood, donated $1 million.
The library organization has set a $10-million goal and will continue fundraising until the end of the year, Greenwald said. Seeing the challenges facing other Los Angeles-area libraries boosted the group's resolve, Greenwald said.
"I think, for us, it was fuel for our fire," she said.
Although the county tends to build much smaller libraries, West Hollywood wanted a larger, more architecturally significant building that reflected the community's interests, said Margaret Donnellan Todd, the county librarian.
The city had capital funds ready for the library's construction before the recession hit, she said.
"West Hollywood is unique because they have the finances," Todd said. "Many of our cities and unincorporated areas don't have that kind of money."
The new library was designed by Steve Johnson and James Favaro of Culver City and features a children's theater, private study rooms and a career development center. It also includes a large collection of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender books and an HIV information center.
Unlike other county libraries, West Hollywood has not had to reduce its staff or operating hours, Todd said. "I have a number of libraries that are open just four days a week," she said.
The library will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It will be closed Sundays.
Though its grand opening is Saturday, the library quietly opened its doors last week so its staff — which includes eight full-time and 20 part-time employees — could get acquainted with the new building, located near San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue. The public has also gotten a peek.
On Wednesday, Gary Kaplan sat at a table near one of the library's floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the massive Pacific Design Center across the street. As his wife, Kay, searched the library's audio books section, Kaplan read the thriller "The Killing Floor" by Lee Child.
The Kaplans, both 73, live just outside the city's border. "We've been watching this thing from the ground up," said Gary Kaplan, who described the old library as "cramped."
Looking up at the ornamental ceiling of the new facility, Kaplan said, "new is always beautiful."
His wife was equally impressed.
"It's a knockout," she said of the new building. "They spent the money correctly. It's almost like you have a fabulous gift and you want to share it with people."