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SANTA CRUZ >> New library cost estimates and renderings were given Thursday to a Santa Cruz City Council committee considering options for a downtown library overhaul.

The Santa Cruz City Council has until summer to make a decision. Otherwise it risks losing roughly $27 million of Measure S bond money set aside for the project. 

The city has hired consultants to investigate costs of two rough game plans: a library remodel where it stands at 224 Church St., or a rebuild of the library with housing and a garage at Cedar and Lincoln streets.

Thursday, in the committee’s online meeting, the consultant Group 4 Architecture shared costs and draft renderings for a possible rebuild. The group considered two options:

  • A one-story library with housing and a parking garage above
  • A one-story library with housing above and an adjacent garage.

Both options would allow a library of about 35,000 square feet.

The initial designs shared Thursday were based on a $27 million budget. That’s assuming the city would receive about $3 million in developer fees from a planned affordable housing project above the garage. If the city were to raise more money from developer fees — which it could, if some of the units were market rate — then the library’s floor plan could be larger.

For comparison, the existing library is about 44,000 square feet. A renovated library at the current site would be about 30,300 square feet.

A new library with housing and parking above would allow the largest possible library, of up to 44,000 square feet, depending on how much the city could raise.

The details for an affordable housing project above the library have not been decided. Bonnie Lipscomb, the city’s economic development director, said at Thursday’s meeting that one of the city’s housing goals outlined by the Housing Blueprint Subcommittee is to maximize affordable housing on city parcels.

“So our goal would be to have an affordable housing project,” Lipscomb said. “With that said I think one of the considerations that council could weigh is that we would get a higher amount of air rights fee, basically the cost that a developer pays to build on the land above the library, is going to be higher for a market rate project than it would be for an affordable housing project, which we would already likely put some city funding in to make that happen. 

“So I think there is a balance, if one of the goals is to maximize or increase the square footage of the actual library, you know, up to the 35,000-to-40,000 square feet, then one consideration or tradeoff could be to take a certain percentage of those affordable units and have those be market rate, so we could have that additional funding coming in through an air rights fee.”

Group 4 Architecture is expected to release a final report to the city council committee of Mayor Justin Cummings, Vice Mayor Donna Meyers and Councilmember Sandy Brown in the coming weeks. That committee will make a recommendation to the city council. The city council is expected to decide on a library plan by June. The COVID pandemic has slowed some processes, city staff said.


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Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. ​Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.