A work table on the 2nd floor at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
A work table on the second floor at the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Proposed bond-funded improvements at four library branches, including the Central Library, got more support Tuesday at a meeting of the Facilities Improvements Bond Committee.

But the committee also heard from residents about a few projects that City staff has not formally recommended for the May 2017 bond, such as upgrades at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center campus. If the committee choses to fund such projects, money will have to be taken from other projects on the $120 million facilities list. Four other committees are considering how to spend the rest of the $850 million bond, the largest in San Antonio’s history.

The 30-member committee, conventing for a second time at the Central Library, heard a bit more about how the bond program would improve the main library, as well as Las Palmas, Memorial and McCreless branches.

City staff recommends $3 million for the enchilada-red Central Library, including a reconfiguration of the first floor, a revamp of the children’s ares on the third floor, and replacement of the cooling tower.

Trustees on the San Antonio Public Library Board are requesting an extra $1 million to improve the sixth floor where the Texana/geneaology special collections are held.

Board Chair Paul Stahl told the committee that the $1 million worth of enhancements would be leveraged with private funds.

Together, the money could help transform the sixth floor department into a “world class collection,” which would prove invaluable with the approach of San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations.

Tracey Ramsey Bennett, president of the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, said the Texana/genealogy room has help many people to complete family research projects.

“Texana is part of us all. It has changed lives,” Bennett said.

Central Library's Latino Collection on the sixth floor. Courtesy photo.
Central Library’s Latino Collection on the sixth floor. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Public Library

The Central Library’s sixth floor collections area is dated and in need of repairs, said Mari Tamez, a library foundation board member who is also president of the local Canary Islands Descendants Association.  An enhanced area, Tamez said, could benefit an array of people.

“This is a citywide project,” she added.

Other audience members and one committee member voiced support for improving the other library branches recommended by the city staff.

The bond calls for $2.5 million for a comprehensive renovation of McCreless; $2 million in comprehensive renovation of Memorial; and $1 million in partial renovations of Las Palmas.

The library board of trustees is asking $1 million more for Las Palmas for technology, a small children’s area, an turning an underutilized peace into a public meeting space.

The library board also seeks an additional $3.8 million for Memorial for technology, expansion, and upgrading teen and children’s service.

Stahl said improving these branches would provide their neighborhoods more equity in library services. A few residents agreed.

“I’m sorry to see we’re not building a new library (under the 2017 bond),” said committee member Lora Eckler. “But we shouldn’t neglect our existing libraries.”

Resident Amber Garza said she supports upgrades at Memorial Library, recalling how important that facility was to her to access information for her school projects.

“I’m very excited about these changes coming to the library,” Garza said.

As much as library improvements and a few other city-staff recommendations got backing Tuesday, some residents pitched the proposed projects that did not make the initial project list compiled by City staff.

Staffers and supporters of the Guadalupe Center’s request for $700,000, which would include improvements to the Guadalupe Theater and to help shore up ongoing preservation efforts at the adjacent, historic Progreso building.

Guadalupe board member Siboney Díaz-Sanchez said the Guadalupe Center campus has impacted her life in many ways, including receiving education there and holding her quincenera on site.

A pedestrian takes the cross walk at the corner of Brazos Street and Guadalupe Street in front of the Progreso Building.
A pedestrian takes the cross walk at the corner of Brazos Street and Guadalupe Street in front of the Progreso Building. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Improvements to the buildings would help the Guadalupe to preserve its heritage and “expand its cultural reach,” said Guadalupe Marketing and Communications Director Katy Silva.

Guadalupe board Chair Celina Peña said her organization’s request to be included in the 2017 bond is relatively small but would positively impact the Guadalupe Street corridor and strengthen her group’s commitment to the arts.

“Guadalupe’s modest request will go far,” Peña added.

A few other groups pitched their projects for bond inclusion.

San Antonio Farmers Market Plaza Association President Yvette Ramirez said her group seeks $2.8 million to restore the facilities that house the small businesses around the farmers’ market building at Market Square.

Ramirez said the association is grateful of staff-recommended proposals to improve West Commerce Street. However, requests for structure improvements for Market Square businesses have fallen on deaf ears in the City’s last two bond issues, she added.

Ramirez explained with the millions of tourists that come to San Antonio, especially for Fiesta, there is much “wear and tear on our facilities.”
One association member, Henry Rodriguez, suggested to the committee it would “not be good to pass them again.”

A small group requested $3 million in City funds for a $4.2 million project to create the ZerNona Black Community Center. ZerNona Black was the wife of local civil rights leader, the Rev. Claude Black.

A group of residents had submitted to the City a plan for the improvement of a 20,000-sq.ft. structure at Hackberry Street and Martin Luther King Drive for a community center, complete with classroom, office and recreational space.

“Research shows community members are the key to building a neighborhood block by block,” said the Rev. Otis Mitchell, pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church.

Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, executive director of the George Gervin Youth Center, said a new community center on San Antonio’s Eastside would benefit the neighborhood in many ways.

“Help us to save our children,” she added.

During his presentation to the committee, Mike Frisbie, the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements director, suggested to the committee that a City staff-recommended replacement Fire Station No. 24 should remain in the Austin Highway area. The City plans to spend $10 million to replace the station, which serves City Council Districts 10 and 2.

One committee member suggested that a new station be located around Perrin-Betel and Loop 410. However, Frisbie said data shows that Fire Station No. 24 should stay put because many calls to which it responds come from the northern end of Austin Highway inside 410.

“It’s currently in between hot spots (for service calls),” Frisbie said.

When the Facilities Bond Committee next meets on Nov. 1, members will see the City’s latest data on structures at Market Square, as committee member Eckler requested.

In the meantime, City staff will study these and other projects that did not make the final recommended proposal list and provide information to the committee.

Each of the five bond committees will make recommendations to City Council in December. Council will then finalize the bond program that will be put to voters for approval in May 2017.

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.