After funding was thrown off track by the pandemic, backers of library improvements see hopeful signs for a restart

Ed McBride, chair of the Palm Springs Public Library Board of Trustees, vividly recalls what happened when COVID-19 hit nearly two years ago.

“The day the city shut down, the contracts for all the library plans were sitting on the city manager’s desk, waiting to be signed,” he recalled. “We all just felt very disappointed that we had worked so hard to get us that far, and the contract just slipped through our fingers.”

The contract he refers to is the use of $623,000 in Measure J funds for planned renovations to the city’s main library. It was among dozens of agreements moving forward when the city went into lockdown nearly two years ago.

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As the city emerges from the pandemic, McBride and Library Director Jeannie Kays are hopeful the funds will re-emerge. They were on hand at a Feb. 17 meeting of the Measure J Oversight Commission, asking, “Where’s our $623,000? Where did it go? We’d love to have it back.”

For one, Commissioner Linda Futterer tried to reassure them, saying, “I support this wholeheartedly. I really think we have to move forward to give the library what they’ve asked for years and years and years — however we do it. I give the library 100% of my support.”

Both McBride and Kays will be paying attention tonight as the City Council is expected to approve moving forward with a grant application that could see state money arrive for library improvements. The item is on the consent agenda and is expected to pass easily.

Once passed, the library and city staff will move forward with applying for the California State Library Infrastructure Grant, which could award up to $10 million for library use. Whatever amount is awarded, the city would have to match it. 

McBride and the Board of Trustees have been asking for funds for the library for years, and for a good reason.

“There hasn’t been significant renovation since the library was built in 1975,” McBride said, adding that the building has seen only had minor cosmetic updates in addition to new computers and furnishings.

Members of a chess club play a match Wednesday at the Palm Springs Public Library off Sunrise Way. Funding for library renovations is once again being discussed at City Hall.

McBride said an expert would be hired to figure out how much work needs to be done to get the building up to code if and when all funding comes through. Depending on those findings, the city might build an entirely new library or renovate and expand the current one.

Whatever the next steps for the actual building, McBride said creating a library that will make all city residents proud is the primary goal of the trustees’ efforts. And as a librarian for almost 40 years, he knows libraries are no longer just about books — they are places to gather, use the latest technology, and learn.

Community members confirmed what McBride knew during a community meeting in 2019 to discuss library improvement. Among the needs identified at the time were additional places for community gatherings.

“What came out of those meetings loud and clear is that the community of Palm Springs loves their library, and they want a new library,” said McBride.

Another priority community members identified was the possible introduction of an archive.

“There’s a feeling that the history of Palm Springs is slipping away,” McBride said. An archive would offer an opportunity to preserve the history of what makes Palm Springs unique, like its mid-century modern architecture and its thriving LGBTQ+ community. 

Whatever form the new library takes, McBride knows the community wants it to stay in Sunrise Park. 

“We looked at five possible sites over about three months and evaluated those,” he said. “We all came to the conclusion that citizens love the library in Sunrise Park. It wasn’t determined what the building would look like, but that’s where they wanted it to stay. That’s a message we’ve been committed to.”

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