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Hunt Register

The Hunt Branch Library, which has been closed to the public since April, has been encumbered with problems for years.

Matthew Leslie

The second of four planned meetings of the Library Ad Hoc Committee took place in the Community Room of Fullerton’s Main Branch on Monday, August 6. Though fully constituted, the Ad Hoc’s agenda still reflected a committee searching for basic information about the Hunt Branch Library, the disposition of which the committee is intended to consider, and the scope and efficacy of the committee itself. The ambitious agenda laid out for the evening gave rise to the hope that essential questions about the actual cost to operate the facility as a property library, requirements for bringing the building up to current accessibility standards and needed repairs, and even an accurate map of the property might finally be forthcoming.

Picking up where they last left off, weeks earlier, the Ad Hoc moved to choose a Chair and Vice Chair—the decision having been postponed until ninth member Molly McClanahan was seated to break a tie between Pete Beard and Randa Schmalfield. The revelation that Ms. Schmalfield was “delighted” not to serve as Chair led the committee to unanimously elect Mr. Beard Chair and Ms. Schmalfield Vice Chair.

With one clear decision under their belt, the nine Ad Hoc members surged on to the next item, existentially entitled Prioritizing Council Direction Regarding the Purpose of the Library Ad Hoc Committee, precipitated by a July 30 memo by member Barbara Kilponen , who suggested therein prioritizing, in order, Funding, the Library building’s use, and Landscaping. Library Director Judy Booth, an ex-officio member of the Ad Hoc also unreasonably tasked with staffing it, attempted to locate a map of the Hunt and its surrounding grounds on the city’s own website. Attendee James Cho, an affiliate of Hunt leasee Grace Ministries International (GMI) and unsuccessful applicant to the Ad Hoc, called out navigational instructions from the audience. Once found, the map led to more questions from the committee, including whether or not the adjacent dog park should be considered part of the Hunt Branch proper. Eventually, Molly McClanahan requested a more accurate map. Several members suggested that a Request for Proposals/Request for Qualifications (RFP/RFQ) be issued to solicit possible uses and occupants of the facility, referred to by Jan Flory as a “dying library.” Former council members on the committee explained that the Ad Hoc itself was not procedurally allowed to itself issue RFPs or RFQs, but there was general agreement, that the committee could recommend the City Council to do so.

For many years people have asked how much money it would cost to repair and reopen the Hunt Branch Library building. A definitive answer was not to be had that evening as the Ad Hoc moved on to its next item of business, but Director Judy Booth did provide a Preliminary Inspection Estimate totaling around $ 2.5 million. $ 1 million of the figure, characterized as a “guess” by Director Booth, was dedicated to the cost of replacing unbroken windows that had been painted black because they had been repeated etched by vandals. Replacement of interior lights was the second highest expense at $ 720,000, followed by $ 120,000 to replace the roof and another $ 160,000 for new heating and air conditioning systems. Other expenses included fending repair, exterior lights, and a fire sprinkler system. Other costs, like seismic retrofit and landscaping and internet connectivity were classified as “Unknown,” while gas, sewer, and water systems were not inspected.

A staff report estimated the cost of operating the Hunt Branch as a library once again as $ 832,956 for seven days a week or $ 679,630 for five days per week. Director Booth explained that an additional $ 200,000 would need to be spent on new collections, since the books currently housed at the Hunt were evidently assumed to be in such poor condition, presumably due to being shrink-wrapped for years while the building has been leased out to GMI. Technological upgrades were not included in the estimate either. Former Fullerton City Council member Jan Flory doubted that the current City Council would allocate $ 2.5 million to refurbish and repair the Hunt, but didn’t think the public would support selling the building and grounds either, and so supported finding an alternative use for the Hunt.

And so the committee moved on the next item, to considered Publicly Beneficial Uses of the Building and Grounds, including, but not limited to, a CSUF reading program satellite facility, a “maker-space” for robotics, a “creative space” for seniors, and different permutations of art and science spaces for kids. All the Arts for All the Kids was said to be interested in submitting a proposal. Committee member Michael Williams wondered whether or not the Hunt Branch was the best site for many of the suggested uses.

Committee member Elgeth Nuncii reported that Robert Pletka of the Fullerton School District had been about being a partner for programming at the Hunt, but no realistic suggestions for programming partners who might bring the necessary funding to repair the facility were forthcoming. Overall, fewer funding ideas were presented than uses for the site. They included Barbara Kilponen’s suggestion to invite architectural firms to lease the site for 99 years, and selling off portions of the property to fund the remainder, or to transfer the open spaces surrounding the building to the Parks and Recreation Department to take advantage of Park Dwelling Fees.

One audience member asked why the committee was presupposing that the city would ultimately be the owner of the Hunt Branch, to which Jan Flory responded that “there are two council people who are hot to sell it,” while the other three were “too chicken to say so.” In the recent past Doug Chaffee and Jennifer Fitzgerald have voiced support for selling the Hunt, while Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva have supported the city retaining it, while Greg Sebourn has remained noncommittal on the issue.

Ultimately, the Library Ad Hoc Committee voted to invite members of the public to submit ideas about possible funded uses for the Hunt Library at the Ad Hoc’s next meeting, to be held on Tuesday, September 4, 5:30 p.m. at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave.

Hunt Flyer color

Matthew Leslie

Save the Hunt invites you to Hunt 101, a free presentation about the past, present, and future of the Hunt Branch Library.

Monday, June 25, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Orangethorpe United Methodist Church – Chapel Hall, 2531 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, CA 92833 (Near the northwest corner of Gilbert and Orangethorpe).

Featured speakers will provide a history of the facility, its architectural significance, and place in the community for over fifty years.

This event is organized by concerned community members, and is not affiliated with either the City of Fullerton or the Fullerton Public Library.

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Matthew Leslie

On May 15 the Fullerton City Council voted to form Library Ad-Hoc Committee to consider recommendations to explore future uses of the Hunt Branch Library. The library is currently closed, and leased out to neighboring Grace Ministries on a month-to-month basis. Although the Library Board of Trustees seems generally to favor retaining the Hunt as a city facility, opinions on that board differ about what can, and should, be done with it. The City Council is more sharply divided, with two members, Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva, voicing support for keeping it in city hands, while Mayor Doug Chaffee has openly advocated selling it. His position is evidently shared by Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was quoted in a May 24 OC Register story as speculating that a sale of the property could help fund library services on the east side of the city. Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn remains uncommitted on the matter. Although some of his comments in the recent meeting could be taken as encouraging by anyone advocating for the Hunt to remain a city asset, he has not ruled out a sale.

Formation of the ad-hoc committee was ultimately approved on a 4-0 vote during the May 15 meeting (Jennifer Fitzgerald absent), but only after extensive discussion by the council. The city staff report proposed a committee of seven that would include two members of the city council, but just one library trustee, in addition to one member each from the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Commission, Fullerton Heritage, and the Fullerton Planning Commission, and the Fullerton Public Library Foundation*. Council member Jesus Silva, who had suggested establishing the committee at an earlier meeting of the City Council, objected to populating the ad-hoc with “a lot of ‘inside players,’” and suggested expanding it to “include some members of the surrounding community” because they would ultimately be most affected by whatever plans were eventually made for the property. Mr. Silva also said he wanted to include representatives from “cultural and educational organizations to see if we can really generate some ideas,” referring to the possible use of the Hunt as a center for cultural and education programming.

Council member Bruce Whitaker agreed, saying that it was “time to step back and take a wider view as to what the beneficial use of this city-owned property might be over time. And that would be the effort of the ad-hoc committee—to bring people who are creative and who might help forge partnerships that would allow us to renew that facility in a part of town where we need that, where we don’t have much in the way of city facilities.”

Mr. Silva suggested reducing the number of city councilors on the ad-hoc to one, and adding a member of the elementary school district board, another library trustee, and members of the public. Mayor Chaffee objected to including any library trustees at all, stating “I hear way too much bias when I listen to that group.”

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn called the ad-hoc an opportunity for “getting the community engaged.” He supported including a mix of public members, and didn’t see the need to include a member of the city council. His motion to get the committee started by having each member of the council simply appoint a person of his or her choice was the plan eventually adopted at the meeting. These five initial appointments are expected to be announced at the June 3 meeting of the city council. Library Director Judy Booth will be included as an ex-officio member.

Once convened, the new ad-hoc will appoint four additional members. A link is present on the city’s website for applications for the committee, but does not yet lead to an actual application. Interested parties are encouraged to call or email the City Clerk’s office to find out how to apply at (714) 738-6350 or CityClerksOffice@cityoffullerton.com.

Though not technically required to do so, the new ad-hoc will proceed in accordance with the Brown Act, announcing meetings in advance, and open them to the public, and keep minutes. Rather than the sixty days recommended by city staff, the committee will continue for at least ninety days. During this time City Manager Ken Domer will contact “educational and cultural arts organizations interested in utilizing the property” in advance of an anticipated City Council Study Session later this year.

Some of the many members of the public who spoke to the issue that night didn’t see the need for the formation of an ad-hoc committee at all. Elizabeth Gibbs recalled that another such committee had already existed five years ago, whose recommendations had been adopted by the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees. Others agreed that the trustees themselves were the appropriate body to explore options for the Hunt, but Mayor Chaffee characterized the Hunt as “a building owned by the city without any purpose or restriction on it,”

Area resident Maria Hernandez recalled visiting the Hunt Branch Library frequently with her children, and told the council that if they “converted Hunt Branch library into a cultural center, (they) would be creating jobs, family activities, and come to the rescue of a historic site…” 

Library Trustee Ryan Cantor, who was himself a member of original 2012 ad-hoc  committee, took issue with the agenda item’s reference to the Hunt as a “former library,” as did current Fullerton Library Board of Trustees President Sean Paden. “It’s not the former library, it is the library. It’s closed, but it’s still our library,” said Mr. Paden.  In response, the  city council agreed not to refer to the Hunt Branch in those terms from that point forward. Trustee Cantor recommended issuing Requests for Proposals from interested community groups who might be able to provide funding and/or programming for the Hunt, something also discussed during Library Board meetings.

Nine days later the Library Board itself considered several items regarding the Hunt during their regular May meeting. Rather than meeting in the small boardroom in the west part of the building, the May 24 meeting was held in the Main Library’s Osbourn Auditorium to accommodate the unusual presence of nearly forty public observers. The trustees adopted a document intended to “Define the Intent of the Gift of the Hunt Library.” 

As requested in their previous Special Meeting of May 5, a representative from the office of the City Attorney was present in the person of Deputy City Attorney Kim Barlow for consultation about legal actions the trustees might choose to take over any proposed sale of the Hunt. Ms. Barlow promised to respond to questions in a confidential email to the trustees.

*The Fullerton Public Library Foundation is a non-profit that raises supplemental funds for specific library projects, and is distinct from the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees, and from the Friends of the Fullerton Public Library who organize periodic book sales and operate the library’s book store.

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