The San Benito County Free Library will undergo a significant expansion in the coming years with the help of an enormous grant, but that’s not the only exciting progress for the local library this year.
If you’re not aware, library staff recently announced the county will receive a $9.9 million state grant to cover most of the planned expansion project at the library on Fifth Street built about 60 years ago. This is a major victory for our community, which has discussed whether to build a second county library for years.
Since joining the county board and being assigned to explore future library facility options at the committee level, I have staunchly advocated for a library expansion as opposed to the previously broached concept to build a second library for up to $60 million.
This direction has focused around the notion that our community does desperately need more library capacity, but that we also must be mindful of what is realistically affordable and what our taxpayers are willing to invest. Pursuing a second library inevitably would have necessitated a taxpayer-funded bond and higher property tax bills, and that’s not something I could have supported given the fact that local residents already are overburdened with numerous bond measures.
From the start I argued that the alternative, an expansion concept, could come with a relatively modest cost from the county if we could obtain the full $10 million in eligible funds from a state library grant program. The county would then use a combination of remaining COVID-19 relief funds and General Fund dollars to cover the remaining $5 million estimated for the $15 million project.
As part of the project, the county will move the San Benito County Office of Education currently housed in about half of the library structure, renovate both sides of the building to modern standards and expand elsewhere on the property where feasible.
The Office of Education for decades has used a portion of the library building due to a curious state law dating back 70 years mandating the county ‒ in perpetuity ‒ to provide space for the local education office, a separate public agency with no oversight from county government. Talks are underway, meanwhile, on which existing county facility might suit the education office’s needs.
On top of the expansion, though, the library this year received an $11.4 million federal grant to provide 10,000 chromebooks and 10,000 hotspots to the community, while the county is developing a distribution plan for the equipment. I strongly pushed for the county to give the computers and hotspots ‒ which come with a year of service ‒ to specified groups most in need such as low-income residents, school districts, college students, seniors on fixed incomes and others deemed appropriate. Library staff members at an October board meeting said they were on the same page with this direction.
On top of these awards, the library received a $200,000 grant this year to install a 24-hour library kiosk at the new Sunnyside Park near the Southside Road Migrant Camp. The kiosk will provide otherwise inaccessible opportunities for residents in that area to obtain books and other materials on demand.
All three of these efforts will mark enormous signs of progress for the library and county. Kudos to everyone involved, particularly the staff and volunteers who succeeded in obtaining all these grants.
This progress also underscores the county’s renewed commitment to prioritize the pursuit of outside grant dollars in order to ensure we, as a traditionally underfunded community, receive our fair share of state and federal funds.
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki represents District 2 on the San Benito County Board of Supervisors.