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Civic center renewal inches toward completion

Posted: April 22nd, 2016 | Features, News, Top Stories | No Comments

By Tori Hahn

Library plan not included, for now

Good news came for the Civic Center Master Plan at the City Council’s annual day-long strategic planning workshop on March 24.

A $116,000 feasibility study constructed by Keyser Marston Associates, a real estate advisory firm, and Gruen Associates, an urban planning company, concluded La Mesa had the space necessary to complete an updated civic center area.

According to Assistant City Manager Yvonne Garrett, the revamped civic center could include a public gathering space, a 24,000-square-foot civic center, an additional building that could expand up to 40,000 square feet, and sufficient parking — either surface parking or a parking structure — that could also support Downtown Village events.

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The new police station was one of the first phases of the Civic Center Master Plan to be completed. (Photo by Tori Hahn)

Preliminary cost estimates put the completed project between $21 million and $26.7 million.

“We’d like it to be an area that is geographically pinned to the words ‘civic center,’” Mayor Mark Arapostathis said. “Right now I think if you were to ask people in La Mesa where the civic center is they might be mistaken and think it is where our community center is.”

Garrett said their main goal is completing the Civic Center Master Plan, which has already seen the completion of the new fire station and police station, reconstruction of the old post office and relocation of the Helix Water District building.

The final pieces would be a new City Hall and a community gathering space. Garrett says this town center-type area could consist of greenery, a new location for the farmers market or even a site for community concerts.

Although the city determined the plan was possible, Arapostathis emphasized the project is still in its preliminary stages and no date has been proposed for the project’s completion.

The city has yet to come up with funds and discuss specific designs for the area, though Arapostathis said that would be the next step.

Joe Glidden, former president of Friends of La Mesa Library, attended the March 24 workshop in hopes of hearing the city’s plan for a permanent library.

Within the eight-hour meeting, Glidden said less than five minutes was spent discussing the library.

“For the most part, the library is the anchor [of the civic center],” he said. “But there’s not much political will to prioritize the library.”

The lack of attention the library received in the workshop came as a disappointment to the Friends, an organization of more than 100 dues-paying members.

The current 10,000-square-foot library on Allison Avenue draws between 900 and 1,000 visitors every day, but has a maximum occupancy of 143, according to Glidden. The La Mesa branch library always had the highest circulation, Glidden said, but after relocating to its current site in 2008 it has since been relegated to third.

“It’s like the little library that could,” Glidden said.

None of this will be possible without the City Council including the library in the Civic Center Master Plan.

The current La Mesa library was constructed as a temporary location in 2008 when the previous site was leveled to carry out the Civic Center Master Plan. In 2005, the city made an agreement with the county to find the money for a permanent library by 2018 or pay back the value of the land, which at the time was an estimated $750,000.

The new Civic Center Master Plan calls for moving City Hall from its current space (pictured) to a new facility. (Photo by Tori Hahn)

The new Civic Center Master Plan calls for moving City Hall from its current space (pictured) to a new facility. (Photo by Tori Hahn)

John Schmitz, current president of Friends of the La Mesa Library and a former city planner of nine years, wagers the payment could amount to $1 million in 2018.

With two years left before the city’s time is up, Glidden and Schmitz sense there isn’t enough urgency from City Council to construct a permanent library.

“They seem to be comfortable with paying for the land rather than building the permanent library,” Glidden said. “They seem to think that is the easiest route to go.”

The feasibility study concluded there is enough room for a larger library. Garrett said the only problem lies in the funding.

The city has looked into bonding, low-interest loans and lease payments from potential tenants of the additional building as revenue streams to fund the library.

Arapostathis assured that even if the 2018 goal is not reached, there is still potential in the future for a new library.

“The door is not being closed on anything,” Arapostathis said. “All possibilities are still available.”

Arapostathis said the next step to completing the civic center might be through subcommittees to speed up the process.

The City Council will discuss possible subcommittees at its next council meeting on Tuesday, April 26.

—Tori Hahn is an editorial intern for San Diego Community Newspaper Network, the parent company of the La Mesa Courier. Reach her at torihahn@cox.net.

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