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Costa Mesa celebrates the next chapter of Lions Park with opening of long-awaited new library

For those who gathered Friday to celebrate the opening of Costa Mesa’s long-awaited new library in Lions Park, there was fittingly no shortage of words to describe the occasion.

The “momentous” and “special” day marked the completion of a “beautiful” facility that represents an “investment” in future generations and foretells a continued “renaissance” and “restoration” of the wider Westside, a procession of civic leaders and other dignitaries told a crowd numbering in the hundreds.

But as community members circulated through the two-story, 23,615-square-foot structure for the first time, a common sentiment was a simple “Wow.”

“Today is a historic day for the city of Costa Mesa and one of great celebration and joy,” said acting City Manager Tamara Letourneau. “As we reflect on what we are accomplishing today, we know that we are incredibly blessed to have this opportunity, as cities don’t get to often open new libraries.”

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The new facility, she said, also represents the realization of a community dream that’s been “decades in the making.”

Two local champions of building a new library — Art and Mary Ellen Goddard — led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of Friday’s ceremony.

“I’m amazed and it’s wonderful,” Mary Ellen Goddard said afterward. “There were times when I didn’t think it would ever happen, and so I’m really glad that it’s here.”

The soaring monument of white plaster and glass, designed by Culver City-based architectural firm Johnson Favaro, sits in front of a sweeping splash of turf — an extra acre or so of tree-fringed parkland made possible by the reconfiguration of Lions Park.

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A gently spiraled stone staircase shuttles visitors between the building’s two levels — its path drenched by sunbeams pouring from an overhead skylight and through an expansive, oblong window on the second floor.

Officials said the library has something to offer patrons of all ages. Along with stacks of books and a collection of computers and other technological devices available for public use, there are conference and study rooms, a teen center and a children’s library that features padded seating and play areas and opens to an outdoor recreation space.

There’s also a workroom and shelf space for Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, a community group that provides supplies and funding for local branches.

“Libraries provide more than just books, more than just space for people to do computing and to study,” Mayor Katrina Foley said. “Libraries serve as a valuable public institution — a foundation that protects a civil society.”

Though Costa Mesa owns the building, OC Public Libraries provides the library services.

“I’m just filled with gratitude for the city of Costa Mesa for making this happen and for our staff for working nonstop to make this happen,” said OC Public Libraries Regional Services Manager Jane Deeley.

Costa Mesa residents, she said, “have been desirous of a new library for a long time, and so many of them worked tirelessly and advocated for a new library for their community.”

Both the new library and the former Lions Park location it’s replacing are named after Donald Dungan, who served as Costa Mesa’s first city attorney from 1953 to 1966 and was a Harbor Judiciary District Court judge. He also sat on the board of trustees for Newport Harbor High School.

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Councilwoman Sandy Genis said Dungan also was instrumental in persuading the Segerstrom family to annex into Costa Mesa. Through his efforts, “we ended up with South Coast Plaza,” she said.

Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds, whose District 5 includes Lions Park, often went to the original Dungan branch growing up. Her family didn’t have a lot of money to travel when she was young, but those visits transported her mind to fantastical places, she said.

“I’ve been to Narnia many, many times,” she said. “I’ve been ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’ I’ve been ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ and I’ve been ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ So, I’m really excited for all of the kids out there who get to explore all of those new worlds. It’s an amazing, amazing place. In a library, you can go anywhere.”

Councilman Manuel Chavez, who also grew up in the Westside, said the new facility will enrich the lives of future generations, just as childhood visits to the former library did for him.

“This library isn’t for us, it’s for those who come after us. … The city invests in its citizens and, more importantly, invests in its future,” he said.

Building the library is one phase of a planned $36.5-million renovation of Lions Park. The city now will turn its attention to redeveloping the old Dungan branch — an 8,740-square-foot structure built in 1986 — as a community center.

That facility will replace the former Neighborhood Community Center, which was demolished in 2017. The city also plans to renovate the park’s playground.

Lions Park, at 570 W. 18th St., also houses the Costa Mesa Historical Society, Downtown Recreation Center and Luke Davis Field.

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Before cutting the ribbon Friday and officially opening the new library, there was story time. Foley sat with her council colleagues and a group of local preschoolers to read aloud the book “Is Your Mama a Llama?”

Check it out at your local library.

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