New South Branch of Berkeley library to open on May 11

The facade of the South Branch in February. Photo: Berkeley Public Library

The façade of the South Branch in February. Photo: Berkeley Public Library

Fourteen months after it was closed and torn down, the new South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library will reopen on Saturday May 11.

At 12:30 p.m. local officials and library supporters will gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1901 Russell Street, right at the intersection of MLK. After that, the library will be open for normal business until 5:00 p.m.

When patrons walk inside the new 8,700 square foot, $6.5 million building, they will see something completely different from the award-winning, but clumsily remodeled, old South Branch building. The ceilings are higher, there are more windows, there are dedicated spaces for computers and other multimedia equipment, as well as more lounge chairs. Copper artwork by artist Gina Dominguez is displayed throughout the building. Solar panels will reduce heating costs.

This picture of the southern exterior is taken looking east from the corner of Russell and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Berkeley Public Libray

The southern exterior from the corner of Russell and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Berkeley Public Libray

“The New South Branch/Tool Lending Library is a warm and welcoming building with improved lighting, ventilation, and thermal comfort,” the library said in a press release. “It creates a civic presence for pedestrians and passers-by; inside it offers visitors a spacious and organized layout.”

Field Paoli Architects of San Francisco designed the new South Branch. Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company of San Carlos were the contractors.

Construction cost for the South Branch were $6.5 million. The Berkeley Public Library Foundation raised more than $3 million to equip the new branches with furniture, fixtures, and lighting.

Not everybody was happy that a new building replaced the old. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association had lobbied city officials to remodel the original South Branch building, which was designed by architect John Hans Ostwald in 1961. The building won numerous accolades and was touted as a fine example of mid-century modern architecture. But the building was remodeled twice after it was built and planning staff determined it would be difficult, expensive, and impractical to preserve parts of the original structure.

A group called Concerned Library Users sued Berkeley to stop the demolition of the South and West branches. It contended that Measure FF, the 2008 bond measure that raised $26 million for the library branch improvement program, only specified the remodeling of the branches, not tearing them down and building new structures. CLU and Berkeley settled the lawsuit in September 2011. The city agreed to donate $100,000 to a fund that would help with historic preservation in south and west Berkeley.

Berkeley has already remodeled two of its branches: both the North Branch and Claremont Branch were completely redone and reopened in 2012. The West Branch of the library is expected to reopen soon as well, although a date has not been announced.

As part of the grand reopening, the Tool Lending Library, which relocated to 2547 8th Street during construction, will shut down at 5:30 p.m. Saturday April 20th. All tools should be returned by then. It will reopen on May 11th as well in a larger space with improved storage and a room to repair tools.

Branch van services to 1730 Oregon St. will stop at the end of the day on April 27, according to library officials.

Read the library’s press release about the reopening. Read about the Branch Improvement Program on the library’s blog.

Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday [05.03.12]
Never let it be said that Berkeley doesn’t love its libraries [04.09.12]
Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit [10.07.11]
South Branch library demolition opposed [07.28.10]

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  • MarkusBarkus

    Families and children in this neighboorhood are eagerly anticipating the new Library! Welcome news to hear it will open soon!

  • 4eenie

    Yippee! The new building looks great. Can’t wait to check out the new, improved tool lending library. I wonder if they will offer more items with the new digs?

  • Looking forward to the grand opening Yarn Bombing.

  • marcialart

    Excellent informative reporting, Ms. Dinkelspiel! I look forward to touring the new building when it opens. Please keep us posted. thanks!

  • LJS

    The 3 million for furniture and fixtures was raised by the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, not the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library. The Friends did make substantial donations to the effort by the Foundation.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel

    Thanks for catching that. It has been corrected.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Please don’t encourage this.

  • Truth Sayer

    Don’t you think there have been too much violence directed towards children. Why would you say this?

  • guest

    Glad to see the “ladies who lunch” (quite a lot, by the look of them!) didn’t spoil the opportunity for a new library.

  • TN

    I hope that the library has invited “Pete” to the grand opening. Pete almost single handedly ran the tool lending library out of a small construction trailer in the early years. The success of the tool library has a lot to do with his technical and personal skills.

    He deserves recognition for his role in the success that the tool library has become.

  • guest

    Google yarn bombing, my friend.

  • Truth Sayer

    I goggled it, and found out I owe you an apology. Please accept my sincere apology. Henceforth, I should google most everything not fully understood, as humble pie is not very tasty :-)

  • guest

    Well. Respect.

  • He’s invited