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Manteca needs BLD-style solution for library needs

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POSTED June 7, 2010 1:10 a.m.

It is time to turn the page, literally, on how we approach library services.

And the current budget crisis - which is actually a structural problem with what we demand of government and how we fund it - may provide the opportune time to think out of the box.

First and foremost, libraries are essential. But save for new technology and bigger and more modern buildings we haven’t modified or expanded their basic functions since the days of Andrew Carnegie.

Manteca does not have control of the library on Center Street. The biggest expense - staffing and the upkeep of the collection - is a joint venture of San Joaquin County and the City of Stockton. Both of those government agencies are facing budget shortfalls that make the $3.8 million deficit Manteca is up against next fiscal year seem like a walk in the park by comparison. Manteca provides the building and picks up maintenance and energy costs.

Whether you like it or not, the deal that gave Manteca the sports park in conjunction with Big League Dreams running it for 35 years was a smart move. The city is avoiding $17 million in maintenance and operational costs over the next 35 years that it would have incurred had it not entered the deal. It also got a higher quality of facility plus was able to use redevelopment agency money to essentially build a recreation park.

Not to dismiss critics of using RDA funds for such a venture, but obviously it is the only option that doesn’t require adding additional debt on property owners via a tax override, bond measure or borrowing money against future revenue.

With that in mind, Manteca leaders need to do several things:

  1. Support a viable way to keep the existing library operational. That may involve supporting San Joaquin County and City of Stockton efforts to join other library systems to reduce operating costs.
  2. Explore various ways of updating and expanding the library’s role in the community to not only be a depository of reading material and a literacy center but to include possible expansion into being a cultural center and a clearing house for continuing adult education.
  3. Consider a private-public partnership to address the need for long-term funding.
  4. Put in place a strategy that would ultimately have a library that stands independent.

One way this could be accomplished is to tie a future library/learning center into a redevelopment agency project done in conjunction with the private sector.

No place does it make more sense than in downtown Manteca.

However, the tennis court site on Center Street may not be the best place.

The city needs to explore other options. One such option would involve a land swap with the owners of the former Manteca Bean Co. site on South Grant Street at Moffat with perhaps the tennis court site and adjoining Scout Hut the city purchased years ago.

The South Grant site offers the advantage of being adjacent to existing municipal parking plus future municipal parking that is being developed in conjunction with the transit station on Moffat at South Main. It also provides synergy to the transit station plus provides another major investment to ultimately transform Moffat Boulevard as a true connector corridor with accompanying housing and other improvements to tie Spreckels Park into downtown. It is also just off the Tidewater making it accessible by bicyclists and - who knows - maybe a growing number of people in coming years that may have their own personal Segway should prices drop far enough in the future.

The location is also more conducive to a multi-story building perhaps five or six stories.

The RDA/city could partner with a private sector firm with the city owning the structure and paying for its construction. In exchange for a 35-year lease - or whatever makes sense financially - the firm could lease out office space and some retail space in exchange for not only maintaining library space but running the operations and keeping the collection current.

The firm would be allowed to have a food and refreshment service just like Borders. At the same time the contract would call for them to offer fee-based continuing education classes.

There have got to be dozens of other ways for Manteca to secure a 21st century library and to make sure it has an ongoing source of funding that doesn’t impact the general fund.

One thing is for sure, we are not ever going back to government as we once knew it at least on the local level.

That is why true brainstorming needs to take place with an emphasis on looking for a long-term solution that can give Manteca a state-of-the art library/learning & cultural center without impacting the general fund just as the city provided residents with a state-of-the-art sports complex that is not impacting the general fund.

Who knows? Maybe the right public-private venture could also attract visitors to Manteca just like BLD.

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