The Santa Monica City Council has signed off on the design for a long-awaited public library in the Pico Neighborhood.

The council voted unanimously Sept. 27 to approve the design development plans for the 8,690-square foot Pico Branch Library at Virginia Avenue Park, allowing staff to move forward with construction documents.

City Council members expressed excitement at being able to proceed with finally bringing a neighborhood library to the Pico area. Residents have for years advocated for a library to serve the needs of the Pico community, saying that is one of the only neighborhoods in the city that has been without a library.

“I really want to say how excited I am for the community at large but particularly for the Pico Neighborhood, that this project is coming to fruition,” Mayor Richard Bloom said of the project design approval. “It’s very beautiful; it’s designed in the community by the community, and I think there is a lot of happiness that this project moves forward.”

The City Council had approved the Pico Branch Library as one of the Santa Monica Redevelopment Agency’s priority projects in May 2009. Though Gov. Jerry Brown had called for the removal of redevelopment agencies statewide in his budget proposal, the council approved $10.8 million in redevelopment agency funds for the library project in May.

The approved design by Koning Eizenberg Architects is for a one-story library building adjacent to the existing Thelma Terry Building at Virginia Avenue Park, 2200 Virginia Ave.

The new library’s features will include adult, teen and children’s book collections, study rooms, seating and story areas and a community meeting room. The community room can be used separately for park and community programs.

Some of the main concerns expressed at community meetings were the construction of the new facility taking away some open space and cutting into the area for the weekly farmers market on Saturdays. Staff noted the project is designed to maintain the existing number of farmers market stalls and vendors, while minimizing the impact on green space, and the library will enliven an area that is currently underutilized.

“The farmers market will be able to continue to fully function,” Miriam Mulder, city architecture services manager, told the council.

Another major issue for the community was the parking impact, but a parking occupancy study found that the existing surface parking lots could accommodate the needs for both the park and library. A variance plan will be developed for parking issues during the farmers market and special events.

The library’s landscaping has been configured to integrate with the park by using landscape design elements from the remainder of the park area. Site improvements will include new concrete paving, raised planters and seat walls, and several new trees will be planted.

A new concrete amphitheater with seating for small performances will also be built. The developer is seeking a minimum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification for the library.

Resident Crystal Anderson said the project design seems to take into consideration sustainability issues and the environment of the existing park. While she has concerns with the loss of some park space, she is pleased the Pico area is finally receiving a library.

“Living in the Pico Neighborhood I’m happy to hear the project is going forward because the Pico Neighborhood is the neighborhood who still does not have a library and we’re happy we will get it,” Anderson told the council.

Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis called the plan a “fabulous design,” saying that while she is sympathetic to the use of park space, she believes the project will enable the other activities to continue to thrive.

“What’s amazing about this design is that we did get a library that minimized the disruption in the park and will still allow the farmers market and all the other wonderful activities we have in Virginia Avenue Park to continue,” Davis said.

She noted the new library will not only be able to serve the needs of an underserved community but become a place that provides a network of services.

Councilman Kevin McKeown said the city had to make many difficult decisions to reach this point, but he feels the plan has incorporated the community concerns.

“I really did see a meaningful integration of those concerns into this final plan,” he said.

The completion of construction documents for the library is expected in May 2012. A groundbreaking is anticipated in the summer of next year, with project completion slated in early 2014.

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