Claremont Branch of Berkeley Public Library to Begin Renovations

Photo: The Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library is set to be renovated after its upcoming April 4 closure.
Jonamir Ian Ventura/Staff
The Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library is set to be renovated after its upcoming April 4 closure.

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Construction on the Claremont branch of the Berkeley Public Library is set to begin immediately after the branch's April 4 closure following a measure passed nearly three years ago that calls for the renovation of the city's four library branches to make them more earthquake-safe and handicapped-accessible.

The structural renovations for all the branches will be funded by Measure FF, a bond approved by Berkeley voters in November 2008 that increases property taxes over 30 years and provides $26 million for library improvements.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Berkeley City Council took the first step toward any physical renovations to the branches by accepting the lowest proposed construction bid of $2.97 million from San Francisco-based firm Fine Line Construction to begin work on the Claremont branch.

"The other bidders were all very close to each other, but Fine Line was several hundred thousand dollars lower than anyone else," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

According to Community Relations Librarian Alan Bern, the Claremont branch should be completely renovated in approximately nine to 12 months. The library will remain closed until construction is finished.

Although the renovation is a result of years of planning, Peter Warfield, executive director of the Library Users Association, said he is concerned with the proposed layout, which he said will limit the amount of space for books and crowd the library with self-service checkout machines.

"The public is paying millions of dollars into a bond that, in the case of the Claremont (branch), is shrinking public usable space and substantially cutting books and materials," he said.

While the city had initially planned to simultaneously renovate the Claremont and North branches - located near Benvenue and Ashby avenues and The Alameda and Hopkins Street, respectively - the City Council voted last week to reopen construction bids for the North branch.

"The North Berkeley bids came in over the original estimates, and the lowest bidder, who was significantly lower, withdrew their bid, claiming that they made clerical errors in calculating prices," said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli. "Basically the bids were approximately $1 million over the original estimate, so we need to get that number down so we can stay within our budget."

According to Bern, the closing and approximate reopening date for the North branch should be announced at the end of April. He added that the renovations should take a little over a year to complete.

The last two branches - South and West - are set to begin renovations after both the Claremont and North branches are complete, but a lawsuit filed by the Concerned Library Users group regarding the legality of the proposed demolition of the two branches has slowed down the process, Worthington said.

As a result, the city plans to demolish the two branches using funds other than those provided by Measure FF, according to Worthington. He said the city could not use the Measure FF funds because demolition was not included in the measure's ballot description and that the city failed to conduct the appropriate level of environmental review.

Still, attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley, who represents the Concerned Library Users, said her clients are looking for alternative methods to renovate the branches without demolishing them.

"There have been plans submitted that the environmental consultants are reviewing at this time," she said. "We are hoping there is a positive solution where some of the historic core of the libraries can be saved."


Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]

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