SAN FRANCISCO—On Wednesday, September 14, the Mayor of San Francisco announced $13.2 million in grants awarded via California’s Building Forward Library Improvement Grant Program to renovate the historic Mission and Chinatown/Him Mark Lai San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) branches. The grants will provide funding to upgrade both branches to state-of-the-art library facilities and maintain their historic significance.
According to a news release from the SF Mayor’s Office, the California State Library Building Forward initiative awarded the Mission Branch project $5.2 million and the Chinatown/Him Mark Lai Branch renovation nearly $8 million. The library branch renovation projects will upgrade the obsolete HVAC systems in both buildings to serve in the future as cooling and clean air respite centers for the community.
“San Francisco’s neighborhood libraries are the heart of the communities they serve,” said Mayor London Breed. “These are safe and welcoming spaces and they are a connection to a broader world of lifelong learning. I want to thank Governor Newsom and the California State Library for investing in capital improvement projects that will help keep our historic libraries accessible and ultimately safer for all San Franciscans and visitors to enjoy.”
Both renovations are designed to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified and to advance San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan goals to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. The goal is for both libraries to become fully electric, eliminating natural gas heating and taking advantage of the City’s municipal hydroelectric power. The Mission Branch Library will add rooftop solar panels and the Chinatown Branch Library will upgrade its existing solar panels, providing renewable power.
“San Franciscans love their libraries and these planned improvements to our beloved Chinatown and Mission branches ensure we are delivering on our goals for library service excellence,” said City Librarian Michael Lambert. “With these renovations, our library users will be inspired by the majesty of the historic reading rooms, and enjoy more space for programs and community meetings, and improvements that will honor and enhance the historic architectural features of these libraries.”
Prior to being awarded grant monies, the SF Library set aside funding accumulated through the Library Preservation and General Funds to renovate both branches. The Building Forward Library Improvement Grant enables the Library to redirect a substantial portion of these savings to support other capital projects throughout the system, including the construction of a new Ocean View Branch Library.
At the Mission Branch Library, which started the first phase of its $24.7 million renovation, the project includes the restoration of its 24th Street entrance, adding a new central staircase into the building’s historic reading room that will be graced by a public art project: a stained-glass mural by Bay Area artist Juana Alicia Araiza, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission. The historic terra cotta façade of the library will be restored. Other improvements to the 1914 Carnegie library include the addition of a large community program room, improvements to the children’s room, a new dedicated space for teens, and additional restrooms.
“The Mission branch library is an incredible resource and institution for all in our community,” said District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “We’re thrilled that these capital improvements will lead to the Mission library becoming fully electric, which will be a model for all of our public institutions.”
At the Chinatown/Him Mark Lai Branch Library, originally built in 1921, the $29.4 million project will restore and repair the historic terra cotta decorations on the exterior façade and entry stairway, as well as restore the historic main reading room. The formerly added but little-used mezzanine will be removed, and a new staircase will be added to improve sightlines and allow library users to navigate the building and its rooftop community space more easily. The branch’s community meeting room will be expanded, an improvement highly sought by the neighborhood.
“We are grateful for these additional state funds that will keep the long-awaited renovation of this 100-year-old, heavily used, historic library on track,” District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “My office will continue to work with the Chinatown community and the Library to ensure the library is temporarily relocated during construction without service disruption.”
Both libraries will include seismic, accessibility and safety upgrades, including being equipped with automatic sprinkler systems and new emergency voice/alarm communication systems. The California State Library Building Forward Library Infrastructure Program is the single largest investment in California’s public libraries in more than 20 years.
The Budget Act of 2021 (SB 129) allocated $439 million in one-time funds to the California State Library to address life-safety and critical maintenance needs of public library facilities throughout California, prioritized for high poverty areas of the state. The maximum grant amount for this competitive program is $10 million per public library building.