Costa Mesa library boosters expressed strong enthusiasm Tuesday for a recent proposal to convert the city's Neighborhood Community Center into a large central library.
The City Council held a special study session regarding the conversion idea, which Mayor Jim Righeimer first suggested in February, and approved a bidding process for more conceptual work to make it happen.
But while all agreed that Costa Mesa needs such an essential public amenity, others expressed concern about the loss of rental space that the downtown community center provides year-round to local nonprofits and other groups.
To make up for the loss, city officials are proposing that the Donald Dungan library branch, adjacent to the community center, be repurposed for rental and meeting space. The council also suggested adding 3,000 to 4,000 square feet of new space to the building.
A preliminary conceptual plan for the community center conversion, paid for by the county, includes an adult library with various rooms, a children's area and 12,000 square feet for book stacks, computers and reading.
The roughly 24,000-square-foot community center would be larger than Costa Mesa's three county-run libraries combined: the Dungan, Mesa Verde and Technology.
Mary Ellen Goddard, who writes a library column for the Daily Pilot and is a volunteer with the Costa Mesa Library Foundation and Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, said she has sought a central library for Costa Mesa ever since she moved to the city in 1977.
"This is really the first time we can say something will really happen," she said. "We can have a library where we can do the many things we want to do."
She added that the city's plans will help library boosters raise funds, because donors will know their money is backed by City Hall's interest.
"We think it's a good compromise for what will work for everyone," said library foundation President Barbara Steck. "They will not have to go to Newport Beach to get what they need."
Resident Bonnie Copeland asked for "numerical justification" of the conversion before the city starts to spend money.
"'Nice to have' is not a justification for spending public funds," she said.
Resident Charlene Ashendorf also urged the council to "spread the love around" when it comes to improving Costa Mesa libraries. The Mesa Verde branch could use a conference and teen area, she said.
Resident Cindy Brenneman urged the council to approve a brand-new library, not just a "redone" neighborhood center.
Until last year, the construction of a new 50,000-square-foot library was being proposed for Civic Center Park, across from City Hall. The idea, floated about for about a decade, was quietly scrapped because of a lack of funding and insufficient parking on the 2.52-acre site.
Righeimer said Costa Mesa should best utilize what it already has, and the estimated cost of converting the community center — $3 million to $4 million — is significantly less than building a new library from scratch. He pegged that cost to be as high as $40 million.
"If we do not do this now, this will never happen," Righeimer said.
City officials said the Dungan, about 6,900 square feet and built in 1986, is oddly shaped and not conducive for the programs library officials want.
The amenities of the community center, built in 1981, include a large multipurpose hall, stage and several conference rooms.