by Greg Lyman
El Cerrito is a small step closer to a safe and modern library. On Tuesday, March 1, our City Council unanimously authorized the City Manager and Mayor to start negotiating with West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) to secure the western portion of the temporary Korematsu middle school campus for a future library with more space for the types of programs residents demand. Five alternatives were evaluated for location, cost and timeliness. Alternatives that required purchase of land along San Pablo Avenue, although creative, had the most substantial unknowns of timeline and cost. The alternative that utilized the site of the Contra Costa Civic Theater, owned by the City, would invest a significant amount in a new theater and change circulation near Cerrito Vista Park. The selected alternative proposes to move both the library and the senior services from aging buildings at Stockton and the Ohlone Greenway to a portion of the area used by current Korematsu portable classrooms. Centrally located, near the Community Center, on public land, and freeing significant area adjacent to Fairmont Elementary School were compelling factors cited during selection. Public criticism included preference for building a public safety building first, and concerns about exposure of Fairmont students to construction noise and dust. Although these are meaningful reservations, the Library – visited by 500 El Cerrito residents per day and gaining in popularity – consistently ranks as the most popular choice for public investment in polls. City officials vowed to push WCCUSD, responsible for the Fairmont reconstruction schedule, to rebuild as rapidly as possible. The chosen $30 million alternative presupposes passage of a funding measure in the November 2016 election, completion of environmental review in June 2017, selection of a design-build contractor in September 2017, groundbreaking July 2018, and the grand opening in December 2019. More information will be available this summer.