The Cesar Chavez Central Library, central branch of Stockton’s public library system, will soon be getting about $15 million worth of structural updates to bring the building up to code.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the city’s oldest library is unsafe, just that many building and safety regulations have changed since it was first constructed in the first half of the 1960s.
“The bones of the building, luckily, are actually really great,” Stockton Community Services Director Kris Farro told Stocktonia. “There’s no structural issues with the building. It’s really just bringing it up to current code.”
A majority of the funds will come from the state and about a third from Stockton’s own budget. According to the city, upgrades will include making the building more resistant to earthquake damage, as well as modifications and improvements for the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning and fire suppression systems.
However, Farro says it’s the upcoming upgrades that will make the library compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act that makes the city the most excited.
“Having the (library) be accessible to all is one of our biggest goals with this project,” Farro said.
Construction of the Cesar Chavez library building was completed in 1964, though it was originally called the Central Public Library when first opening its doors on North El Dorado Street more than half a century ago. Stockton City Council voted to change the Central Public Library’s name to Cesar Chavez in 1994.
Cesar Chavez came about as a replacement for the city’s first public library, Hazelton-Stewart Library, after it was closed down. The old library had been located at Market and Hunter streets in Stockton’s downtown from 1895 to 1962.
Farro says the Cesar Chavez building hasn’t had any major work done since it was built, just a few “touch ups and some freshen ups” now and then over the years.
“But as far as a big infrastructure (project), it really hasn’t been touched since the 60s,” Farro said.
Stockton was awarded a $10 million grant by the California State Library in October “to address life-safety and critical maintenance needs” for Cesar Chavez. The funds are part of the Building Forward Library Infrastructure Program that was allocated nearly $440 million of one-time funds in the state’s 2021 budget for library infrastructure projects across the state.
To be approved for the grant, the city also had to put up $5 million in matching funds for the Cesar Chavez project. That money will be allocated through Stockton’s Measure M tax from the city’s current fiscal year as well as the 2023-2024 budget, according to City Council agenda documents from February.
The last time the library saw any updates was in 2004, according to the city, which was nearly two decades ago.
“Years of deferred maintenance have affected the practical use of the facility. The building is outdated, and modifications have been hindered by the cost of removing hazardous materials such as asbestos in the floor tiles, spray-on fireproofing, pipe fittings, and roofing,” city officials said in Council agenda documents. “The current layout of the building, deteriorating interior, and outdated systems need updating for modern library patron needs.”
Though not as intensive, Farro says the three-level building will also get some upgrades to its aesthetics, such as new furnishings, fresh paint and possible layout changes.
“So that when it opens up, even though there’s not so many changes inside, it’ll look new and fresh,” Farro said.
She added that the goal is also to make Cesar Chavez a destination as Stockon’s main branch by bringing in unique programs to make it an anchor in the community, such as potentially hiring an archivist to create a program where people come to do ancestry work or research on the city.
“Maybe it’s not the closest one to your house, but you’ll be compelled to go to it because of the special services that are there,” Farro said.
So when will the upgrades be completed? It’s too soon to tell.
“We actually don’t know the answer to that yet. We’re in the process of bringing on a design consultant.” Farro said. “It will depend on what the final design is and how they have to do the construction.”
Though the city will likely have a project design for the upgrades completed by next summer, Farro said.
Stockton City Council voted to accept the state’s grant in February. According to the project’s implementation plan, the project construction could be completed by 2025. The state mandates the grant’s funding be spent by March 2026.