When is your new library ready? A Lookout guide to the emerging branches

There's no shortage of natural light at the new Capitola Branch Library.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Four redone Santa Cruz County library branches have reopened and four more will throw open their doors by the end of the year. We check in on the generational investment of $67 million county voters made in 2016.

Six years ago this week, Santa Cruz County voters overwhelmingly approved Measure S, funding the next generation of public libraries. By a 70% majority, voters taxed themselves $67 million to revamp or rebuild 10 county libraries from Boulder Creek to La Selva Beach, all by the end of 2025.

Guides graphic

That ambitious timeline is now more than halfway through, and Lookout updates the progress, answering the question: Where does my library fit in? We detail each of the changes below, branch by branch, and offer a handy map that both shows progress and links to the event schedules for each of the open branches.

This coming week marks two of the new starts.

On Saturday, the new Garfield Park branch hosts a “grand reopening,” with a celebration taking place from noon to 4 p.m. at 705 Woodrow Ave. in Santa Cruz. Then on Wednesday, beginning at 12:30 p.m., the Aptos branch breaks ground on its new construction. Brazilian music, crafts and a roaming fairy are promised.

Of the county library system’s 10 branches, four — Boulder Creek, Capitola, Felton and La Selva Beach — have so far completed construction and reopened to the public. In the coming months, beginning this weekend, four additional branches — Branciforte, Garfield Park, Live Oak and Scotts Valley — will reopen to the public.

The large downtown Santa Cruz branch, a project that has been contested by some, is scheduled to begin construction in 2023, to be completed by 2026. As of now, the project remains at a crossroads, with opposing group Our Downtown, Our Future recently filing a ballot measure to keep the library as is, aiming for voters to decide in November. City officials and library representatives say this action hinders not only the project from moving forward, but the construction of more affordable housing and a new community space in the city’s downtown.

Yolande Wilburn, who joined the Santa Cruz Public Libraries as director in January, said she was so glad to see the community support for the library system when she first moved to town, and for the libraries themselves, many of which were first built in the 1960s.

More than just new buildings, the new libraries also reflect changing community needs.

“Many of our libraries haven’t had major renovations, and we’ve changed the way we do things in libraries,” Wilburn said. “Libraries aren’t these quiet, silent places anymore; if we want to provide these spaces for our communities, we need to build for them.”

Further, she notes, the Measure S funds tie directly to library safety. Many of the plans include asbestos removal, electrical wiring and spaces compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other updates, Wilburn said, could include solar power and further broadband access.

A rendering of the proposed Live Oak library branch annex.
(Via County of Santa Cruz)

“People are really happy if we can add those pieces — some of them we may need to add later, and we’re planning for that,” she said, noting potential grant funding. “But those things are very important.”

Looking forward, Wilburn said it’s imperative that the Santa Cruz Public Libraries remain connected with the community, to best hear what else readers need.

That also means, she said, that the libraries will focus a great deal of efforts on hiring and staffing all 10 branches, one of the system’s “biggest challenges” during the pandemic. Currently, the library is budgeted for about 102 full-time-equivalent employees, and is working on recruiting as additional branches open.

“It’s not only about lifelong learning outcomes, but by having better, sustainable lives in having access to these library amenities,” Wilburn said. “It’s a great way to connect with others in the community and these resources.”

Local nonprofit Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries (FSCPL) has worked to raise money for the libraries since the organization’s founding in 1979. In 2020, the organization gave $484,176 toward the library system; the following year, FSCPL exceeded its goal of $1 million, raising $1.017 million from capital campaign donors. It allocated that spending among three branches: $470,000 toward Aptos, $320,000 toward Branciforte and $210,000 toward Garfield Park.

The projects have seen some delays — caused by standard construction slowdowns, weather issues and the COVID-19 pandemic — noted library facilities manager Laura Whaley, who has overseen the work over the past three years. Of course, that’s all par for the course, she said: “Most of us don’t go through big building projects in our lives … it’s never fast.”

Rena Dubin, who has served on both the Library Advisory Commission (2020-present) and the Downtown Library Advisory Committee (2016-18), sums up the kind of accomplishment many involved with the work feel and the satisfaction they see among new visitors:

“People can see how welcoming and safe these spaces are.”

So what’s the status of your library? Here’s Lookout’s quick guide to the emerging system.

Completed construction and reopened

Boulder Creek
Address: 13390 W. Park Ave., Boulder Creek
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Status: Reopened in May
New features, programs: Interior remodel, including:

  • New HVAC, plumbing, entry, electrical and lighting
  • ADA upgrades
  • Increased exterior lighting
  • Redo of the children’s area

Footprint: 4,500 square feet

Address: 2005 Wharf Rd., Capitola
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 - 5 p.m. Sunday
Status: Reopened in June 2021
New features, programs: Complete renovation of previous temporary facility, including:

  • Large meeting rooms
  • Expanded children’s wing
  • Study and reading rooms
  • Solar panels and energy-efficient design

Footprint: 11,700 square feet

The new Capitola branch.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Address: 6121 Gushee St., Felton
Hours: 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 - 5 p.m. Sunday
Status: Reopened in February 2020, the first completed Measure S branch
New features, programs: New facility for the branch, replacing a 60-plus-year-old historic church building:

  • Free computers and WiFi
  • Teen and children’s areas
  • Community room
  • Adjacent discovery park

Footprint: 9,000 square feet

La Selva Beach
Address: 316 Estrella Ave., La Selva Beach
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; noon - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Status: Reopened in March 2021
New features, programs: Renovation of the existing building, with updates including:

  • Replacing dilapidated interior finishes with new lighting, electrical and mechanical
  • Lounge seating areas for children and adults
  • Expanded deck with usable outdoor space

Footprint: 2,230 square feet

The downtown mixed-use library project has been in motion for development since 2016, with construction of the new...

Reopening soon

Address: 230 Gault St., Santa Cruz
Hours: Closed for construction
Status: Finishing construction; set to reopen this fall
New features, programs: Renovation of existing building, built in 1967, including:

  • Improved flexible and accessible areas for reading
  • Electrical and telecommunication upgrades
  • New community room and children’s outdoor patio
  • Landscaping nearly complete

Footprint: 6,800 square feet

Garfield Park
Address: 705 Woodrow Ave., Santa Cruz
Hours: Closed for construction
Status: Reopening Saturday
New features, programs: Renovation of the historic Carnegie library building (1915) with refreshed design, including:

  • Central seating area around the fireplace
  • Children’s area
  • More open space
  • Refreshed outdoor space

Footprint: 2,300 square feet

Live Oak
Address: 2380 Portola Dr., Santa Cruz
Hours: Closed for construction
Status: Under construction; set to reopen in August
New features, programs: Renovation of existing building, including:

  • Transition to an ocean-themed learning space for the children’s area
  • New acoustic wood ceiling and wall treatments
  • Redesigned functional seating
  • Custom designed wall to separate children’s collections from reading lounge and homework room

Footprint: 13,500 square feet

Scotts Valley
Address: 251 Kings Village Rd., Scotts Valley
Hours: Closed for construction
Status: Under construction; set to reopen in July
New features, programs: Updates to the 2011 structure, including:

  • New roof
  • HVAC system
  • Parking lot repairs
  • Seismic and operational upgrades

Footprint: 13,150 square feet

Looking ahead

Address: 7695 Soquel Dr., Aptos
Hours: Closed for construction
Status: Demolition took place May 18; set to reopen in fall 2023
New features, programs: New facility to replace original building, built in 1975, including:

  • Flexible community, meeting and study rooms
  • Garden and terrace areas
  • Local history section
  • Maximizing energy efficiency

Footprint: 12,000 square feet

Downtown Santa Cruz
Current address: 224 Church St., Santa Cruz
Hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon - 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 - 5 p.m. Sunday
Status: Planning underway for the new library/housing mixed-use project on Cedar Street
New features, programs: New facility, as approved by the Santa Cruz City Council, would include:

  • 124 units of affordable housing
  • 310 parking spaces
  • A 35,000-square-foot newly designed library
  • 5,000-square-foot roof deck

Footprint: 40,000 square feet

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