The ground was officially broken for the new Felton Library last Saturday, which brought together a large group of dedicated community members, several local elected officials and many county staff members to celebrate. The symbolic act of turning a shovel of dirt didn’t take long, but represented the culmination of more than a decade of collaborative effort to build a brand new, 8,900 square foot library in Felton.
Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson served as the master of ceremonies, recognizing many people in the audience who worked diligently to bring the project to fruition.
“This library will be a new hub for the community and serve as a shining example of what can be achieved when we have residents, community leaders, government and local businesses working hand in hand for a tremendous accomplishment,” McPherson said to the crowd.
McPherson is widely credited for brokering the deal between the county and the Verutti family for the entire, two-acre, undeveloped parcel next to the Felton Post Office on Gushee Street for a deeply discounted price in 2015. The Verutti family had offered to donate about half of the site back in 2002, but the City-County Library System delayed acceptance of the donation because it had no idea how it would fund the construction of a new library in Felton.
This dilemma was ultimately solved by the voter approval of Measure S, approved by 70 per cent of Santa CruzCounty voters in 2016, that raised $67 million for the county-wide library system, including up to $10 million earmarked for a brand new library in Felton.
“This multi-million dollar project will be the largest infrastructure improvement in Felton in some time. Thanks to Judge Jeff Almquist who planted the seed for a new library and to Supervisor Bruce McPherson for making it happen. Now let’s work together and get it built,” the Verutti family said in a statement back in 2015.
After a competitive bidding process, the CountyBoard of Supervisors awarded the $8.3 million construction contract to Novato-based Thompson Builders in August, with the County’s Department of Public Works taking the lead on construction management.
The long backstory to the new library, as well as the new Nature Discovery Park that will be developed directly in front of the library on the wooded acre that was added to the acquisition from the Verutti family, goes back to at least to 2005.
Back in 2005, the Santa Cruz City-County Library System announced it may have to close the Felton Branch due to lack of funding. This inspired a local group of activists, who would become known as Felton Library Friends, to successfully organize a grass-roots campaign preventing the closure of the small branch library, the Faye G. Belardi Memorial Library in the old Felton Presbyterian Church. Felton Library Friends mobilized again in 2009 to prevent another threat of closure, and made many allies within the community and local donors in the process.
Meanwhile, thanks to the generosity of the Whalen Trust that donated $150,000 to the Felton branch library in 2009, Teall Messer, a local architect, started developing plans for the new library, and kept revising them and working with Felton Library Friends for almost a decade. These plans evolved from concept to actual construction drawings as funding became more certain with the approval of Measure S, and the adjoining Nature Discovery Park began moving from an idea to actual park planning.
“It’s wonderful for an architect to work with such community support, and that sustained community support, particularly through the Felton Library Friends, which has also brought about the Nature Discovery Park next to the Library,” Messer said to the Press Banner in an earlier interview.
The Measure S funding coupled with ownership of the larger site opened up opportunities for further funding of the Nature Discovery Park, which will be a one-of-kind public park designed for outdoor environmental education in watershed protection and management-directly in front of the new library. Assemblyman Mark Stone managed to land $1 million in a one-time state funding for the library and nature park, which in turn helped secure further funding by a State Parks grant for design of the new park.
Through it all has been Nancy Gerdt, chair of Felton Library Friends. A Felton resident for than 30 years, Gerdt served as a citizen representative on the county-wide Library Joint Powers Board for two, four-year terms until 2014, and has been a prime force behind the Felton library project from its inception more than 10 years ago.
“This library and the Nature Discovery Park will mirror the valley residents deep love for these mountains we call home and deep history of environmental stewardship,” Gerdt said to the audience. Gerdt recognized and thanked the many institutional partners and donors in the audience, including county parks, the San Lorenzo Water District, the county’s public works department as well as the many Felton Library Friends in the audience.
Gerdt seemed a bit poetic in her assessment of what the new library will bring to the community. “It occurred to me that this library will be something of a community prevention center – a place to prevent ignorance…, a place to prevent boredom…, and a place to prevent loneliness, by providing comfortable spaces to sit quietly and read while surrounded with other community members. The most important things in life rarely come quickly or easily, but with perseverance, good things can happen,” Gerdt said just before the actual groundbreaking.
More information about the Felton Library, the Nature Discovery Park and continued fund raising for “community-based programming” at the new library is available at the Friends of Felton Library website at: http://www.feltonlibraryfriends.org/.