In the middle of a joint Costa Mesa City Council, Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission meeting to discuss the city’s ambitious plan to remake Lions Park, a woman in the audience turned to one of her neighbors and mouthed one word: “Wow.”
For council and commission members, the feeling was largely mutual.
“It’s so incredible,” Mayor Katrina Foley said during Tuesday’s special meeting at the Costa Mesa Country Club. “I can’t even tell you how excited I am.”
In a series of unanimous votes, the commissions and council officially signed off on the projects proposed for the park — the most significant of which is a new 22,860-square-foot library.
When completed, that two-story building will dwarf the park’s existing 8,740-square foot Donald Dungan Library branch.
Councilman Jim Righeimer said there are three primary reasons he feels the project should move forward: “We need this library, we need this library and we need a library.”
To make room for the new library, the city will demolish the Neighborhood Community Center in Lions Park. The Dungan library would be converted to a community center to replace it.
The goal is to start construction on the projects, estimated to cost $36 million, in July and wrap up the work in February 2020.
Though some speakers at Tuesday’s meeting had concerns, largely about the library, supporters of the effort to remake the nearly 13-acre park — which also is home to the Costa Mesa Historical Society, Davis Field, Downtown Aquatic Center and Downtown Recreation Center — said doing so will not only enhance the park but the neighborhood as well.
“Clearly it’s a significant improvement and potential change for the Westside of Costa Mesa,” said City Manager Tom Hatch.
The city plans to keep the Dungan library open until the new building is ready, Hatch added. Other facilities like the aquatic and recreation centers will remain open throughout construction as well.
Another goal of the project, Hatch said, is that it will bolster the city’s efforts to reach out to homeless people who have been living in the park and “get them the help they need to get into housing, to get out of the park and off the streets.”
The new library is envisioned to have a large all-white facade with blended classical and contemporary design elements and extensive use of glass to allow natural light.
Its first floor would include meeting and multipurpose rooms, a children’s library and various workrooms. Features on the second floor would include a teen room, study rooms and a staff lounge.
The new library will have a smaller footprint than the existing Neighborhood Community Center, leaving an extra acre or so of open space in Lions Park that could be used for recreation and artistic or cultural events, according to city officials.
“You’re gaining a new library and a 1-acre park,” said Planning Commission Vice Chairman Byron de Arakal. “I don’t know where else in town you’re going to be able to do that.”
But others said the projects, as proposed, don’t make financial sense for the city.
“Unfortunately, libraries are a dying breed,” said Westside resident Cindy Black. “With all the new technology at people’s fingertips, even bookstores have gone out of business. The project as now proposed is not a necessity nor financially prudent.”
As part of the Donald Dungan Library’s transition to a community center, city officials plan to slightly expand the building’s floor area to accommodate mechanical, electrical and audio-visual equipment, as well as a new catering kitchen.
The project also calls for extensive landscaping, irrigation and sign improvements in the park, as well as construction of an 890-square-foot cafe.
“I think this is going to be a great plus to the residential area,” Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Kim Pederson said of the projects. “I don’t see any downside to this.”
When the City Council took the final vote to officially approve the project and authorize city staff to solicit construction bids, many of those in the audience — some waving signs reading “I support a new library” — broke into cheers.
“The Dungan library is highly used and it’s an old, cramped place that tries to accommodate the modern needs of a library,” said Bob Ooten, president of Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, an organization that supports the three local branches. “We need another library to accommodate the teens, the adults and the children in our community.”
However, a few council and commission members, as well as some of the roughly 100 other people attending Tuesday’s meeting, questioned whether Lions Park is the best spot for a new library.
Civic Center Park next to City Hall was preferable to some, as was the idea of building a library on a portion of the Fairview Developmental Center property, should that option arise.
Another concern was that access to Lions Park would be limited during construction of the library and demolition of the Neighborhood Community Center, which combined could take about 18 months to complete.
Resident Robin Leffler called the projects “a pig in a poke” and said the public hasn’t yet received sufficiently detailed information on their full costs.
She also took issue with the design of the new library, calling it “really hideous” and “not inviting.”
Costa Mesa officials have proposed covering the project’s estimated $36 million price tag with a roughly 50-50 mix of city cash and borrowing.
Financing options will be presented to the council for review at a later date, according to Stephen Dunivent, the city’s interim finance director.
Officials said the city also will seek other funding sources, such as grants or private donations, to help cover the cost.
Though they acknowledged the concerns, council and commission members said they feel the projects are worth supporting.
“Nothing is perfect, but this is pretty great and something to be extremely proud of,” Foley said. “I really believe 20 years from now, 30 years from now, this is going to be a timeless piece of architecture in our community.”