Government / Politics

$47 million price tag for new library stuns some supervisors

After months of study and quizzing locals, Library Systems Services Inc. comes back with a $47 million price tag for proposed TEL Center

After Rockville, MD-based Library Systems Services Inc. was tasked Aug. 2016 to conduct a needs assessment of the county library and a Technology, Education, and Library (TEL) Center, Dana Braccia, vice president of LSSI, returned to the board Feb. 21 to report that the bottom line cost for a basic, state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot TEL center would be $47 million.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho nearly came out of his seat interrupting her presentation when he quizzed her: “I’ve got to ask the question — has anybody in a small, rural county that has the revenue that we have ever accomplished a $47 million facility? Ever? In the United States?”

Braccia seemed perplexed for a moment and then said she would have to look it up for him. She started to tell him about state grants when he interjected that the problem with facility grants is the county would have to come up with matching funds. He said if the county and two cities (Hollister and San Juan Bautista) had to come up with 25 percent of the nearly $50 million cost, it would not be possible. While Botelho told her there were some good ideas in her report, he said he was looking for something that might happen within his lifetime. He asked her if there were any alternatives.

The price tag was based on the design of a multi-level building, Braccia said, and because of seismic requirements and the building materials that would have to be used. She did say that if a smaller, one-story building with limited community uses was desired, or if a phased-in approach where the center could be expanded over time was used, the cost could be reduced.

Botelho asked her if the plan would allow for a grant application that would align the county with monies if the state decides to move forward with more library grants. She said the study determined that the TEL would be in conjunction with a revived downtown.

“It’s not just a library, but if you think of it in broader terms in scope, there are places in there for so many components your community can connect,” she said. “There is business development in there. A chamber of commerce could be the anchor hub. Is there other county space or offices? We’ve laid out some of that because it may be where you’re funding a certain resource in another area that could come into this center.”

Other community partners, including an expanding college presence, could help produce additional revenue, Braccia said.

Supervisor Jerry Muenzer questioned the approximate $783 cost per square foot for the TEL center when compared to the estimated $620 per square foot for the county jail expansion. He said a jail is the most expensive type of building to construct and asked her how she came up with that figure.

Braccia said it was based on California industry standards. When Muenzer continued to challenge the cost, she said it was a high-level, ballpark figure, but they could always trim back and cut costs.

Supervisor Mark Medina told her, “When I think of the word ‘realistic,’ at 60,000 square feet and $47 million, I just can’t see that. I love the idea, but I think we should tone it down. We need to start small and ratchet the dollar value down.”

Medina compared the TEL center project with the construction of St. Benedict's Catholic Church on Fairview Road. He said it was partly accomplished through private donations and suggested partnering with local businesses and foundations to help fund the TEL center.

“Presenting it as this Taj Mahal is not the right way to market it at this point in time,” he said.

Braccia concurred and again suggested looking at the TEL center as a multi-year project where different stages could be phased in.

Louie Valdez, county analyst, said the Intergovernmental Committee asked for the greatest possible ideas for a TEL center. He said LSSI was instructed to use its imagination and “go for broke.”

“That’s what you’ve got here,” he said. “What Dana has provided for you is exactly the point we’re trying to make. I don’t know if the board of supervisors is going to want to allocate $47 million to build this kind of facility. With that in mind, and with the high-level overview that is being provided to you, is why it’s so important for us to redirect our vision internally and ask some hard questions. How are we using our spaces, our resources? How much of that space is going to be allocated by the county, and how much by the city? That is important because they are our partners.”

Valdez said the board was being asked to take one of two positions: either send the proposal back to the committee for further discussion, or the ad hoc committee could study some of the suggestions about how to improve the space currently being used.

Supervisor Robert Rivas said the board typically brings up negative points for most agenda items or limitations of the county.

“But this is a vision,” he said. “This is what we need in San Benito County. We have to think beyond books. We need a community hub. We need a place that’s going to attract people of all ages from all parts of our county.”

Rivas said the county could lead the effort, but it needed partners, such as  Gavilan College, the two cities, school districts, and businesses.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “In Salinas, Hartnell College partnered with agricultural industries and they built a beautiful facility with a diesel mechanic program, an ag-construction program. They are well-attended and a great example of what we could do here.”

Valdez commented that the San Benito High School District recently had more than $100 million in school improvement bonds. He said the TEL center cannot happen with just the county and cities involved, but it would take the entire community.

“The reality is we have current challenges and future challenges,” he said. “The vision is exciting. It’s provocative. It’s going to spark discussion. It’s a great idea.”

Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz told his fellow board members that to shut down any consideration of the TEL center is not the way to go.

“Anyone can shut something down, but it takes leaders to see the future and start somewhere,” Cruz commented. “For us to say, ‘there’s no way it can happen,’ many people have said that, but few people have said, ‘let’s take the lead and work with it.’”

Supervisor Muenzer said the presentation would be going to committee for more discussion to see what kind of cooperation can be expected from Hollister and San Juan Bautista. Meanwhile, Rivas said that he and De La Cruz, as members of the ad hoc committee, would continue discussions concerning potential library bonds and other revenue-generating options.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]