Council OKs plan for charter school in proposed new downtown library


City News Service

The City Council on Monday agreed to enter into a lease with the San Diego Unified School District to incorporate a charter school within a proposed new downtown central library.

The City Council voted 5-3 to authorize the lease. Council members Donna Frye, Sherri Lightner and Carl DeMaio cast the dissenting votes.

The plan calls for the SDUSD to pay the city $20 million to lease the sixth and seventh floors of the library for a charter high school or middle school that would serve about 400 students. The money would come from Proposition S bond funds and the district’s share of downtown redevelopment dollars.

The lease would start when construction begins on the new downtown library, which hasn’t yet been approved by the City Council.

The council is waiting for a final cost estimate for the project before moving ahead. It is tentatively scheduled to take up the new downtown library proposal in June or July.

Preliminary cost estimates from 2005 have pegged the project at about $185 million.

The reason the City Council moved ahead today with the lease with SDUSD is to meet a May 1 deadline to secure a $20 million state grant.

DeMaio called the lease agreement a “bad deal” that would come at the expense of the city’s branch libraries.

“Given the city’s fiscal crisis, I do not believe the city can sustainably pursue this project at this time,” he said.

Council President Ben Hueso said he supports the project “whole-heartedly” and argued that both the library and school fill a need in the community.

“What better use to incorporate into a library than classrooms that are going to provide a much needed use?” he asked.

The only other high school in the downtown area now is San Diego High School, which can’t accommodate all of the students who want to go there, Richard Barrera, president of the SDUSD Board of Education, testified.

“This project doesn’t solve all of that, but it helps us in the right direction,” he said.

The city has raised about $37 million from private donations for the new library. The money from the SDUSD lease and the state grant adds another $40 million toward the cost. The bulk of the remaining money would likely come from downtown redevelopment dollars.

Approval of the downtown library is far from certain.

“The big question is when we get the bids back in and have a hard look to see if this project pencils out,” Councilman Kevin Faulconer acknowledged.

The design for the proposed project, at 330 Park Blvd. in the East Village, features a nine-story, dome-topped library with an auditorium, meeting spaces, sculpture garden and underground parking.