Council votes to develop facility master plan

PASO ROBLES — In a 5-0 vote, the Paso Robles City Council decided to employ RRM Design Group to develop a comprehensive co-op plan for City Hall and the library.

For decades the City staff has occupied the upstairs of the Paso Robles City Library. In 1995, the City of Paso Robles constructed the library with the intention that City Hall would use the building until 2010. However, due to the economic downturn of the Great Recession, plans for building a new facility fell by the wayside. 

“The original intent was that the library would be a two-story library and the City Hall would essentially rent space from the library for about ten years than either a new City Hall would be constructed or space would be rented elsewhere,” City Manager Tom Frutchey said.

Advocating for a City Hall master plan in the November 2019 City Council meeting, Frutchey told the Council he believed it was time for City Hall to relinquish its hold on the library. 

“The City Hall master plan hand not been forthcoming,” Frutchey said. “We have made some progress but certainly not at the pace the Council would have wanted, nor the community and the Library advocates deserve.”

With a room full of library advocates, the Council seemed to agree with Frutchey’s sentiments. In a 5-0 vote, the Council approved an initial motion to authorize an agreement with RRM Design to create a comprehensive space plan for City Hall.

In a January 2019 Council meeting, with only a few library representatives, the Council seemed to rethink its position on building a City Hall. Fiscal conservative Councilman John Hamon pulled the RRM Design motion from the consent calendar and opened a whole can of worms. After several failed motions, the Council finally directed staff again to review the decision to employ RRM Design Group to develop a suitable space plan for both facilities, including the Union Road. On Oct. 1, 2019, the Council authorized the purchase of 8.5 acres located at 2930 Union Road, which closed escrow in December 2019. The site is a proposed location for an emergency services facility. The area would encompass a fire station, a back-up emergency operations center, a Police substation, the City’s corporation yard, and other core City services. 

At the Feb. 4 Council meeting, the matter came back to the floor for an open discussion with Hamon questioning whether the City had enough funds to fulfill the Library Master Plane and develop a City Hall master plan as well as pursue the EMS facility on Union Road. With a room once again full of library advocates, the Council deliberated on the best course of action. 

Hamon elicited groans from a majority of those present when he stated that libraries are not as relevant as they used to be.

“People aren’t using libraries like they used to,” Hamon said. “I can find what I need to look for in my phone faster than I can go downtown and go to the library to get it.”

Frutchey reminded the Hamon that the Library Master Plan has already been approved by them and agreed to move forward with the project.

“We did make a commitment to the library that we would proceed with that master plan,” said Frutchey.

During the public comment section of the meeting, several library advocates stepped forward and gave reasons to move forward with the library’s masterplan and developing a City Hall master plan. Jan Jennifer Carey said that the library provides a place for children to go once school gets out. Anne Bell, President of the Friends of the Library, reminded the Council that the organization would be donating $40,000 to the library. She also said that the facility sees an increase in visits from tourists. President of the Library Board of Trustees Micheal Miller said that the Council-appointed group encouraged the City to move forward with the RRM space analysis. 

“People don’t use the library the way they did 25 years ago, they use it in new and encouraging ways now,” Miller said. “And we need our space to adapt to that changing environment for all ages of the community.” 

Council member Fred Strong sang the praises of Paso Robles Librarian Angelica Fortin and the innovative ideas she has employed to keep the facility relevant and productive. At the prompting of Strong, Fortin fielded questions and provided the Council statistics. 

“Last year, we circulated over 305,000 items… 262,000 of those were actually physical items so that people had to come into the library to check those out,” Fortin said. “We had over 157,000 visits last year to this library, and every day at our study center, we have approximately 50 to 60 students that make their way across the street from Georgia Brown Elementary School.”

Hamon questioned Fortin on the tracking of new users to the library. Fortin responded that the facility added approximately “2,000 members every several months.” She accredited the increase to the drastic reduction of library fines. 

Council member Gregory reminded the Council that the City already has developmental impact funds for City Hall and the library. He proposed to employee RRM to develop a plan using the funds already allocated. Hamon amended the motion that the plan development should not exceed $160,000.

Fortin was pleased with the decision. She told the Paso Robles Press that people initially wanted to have City Hall moved out, but now many enjoy both City Hall and the library being in the same place.

“I like to call it the beacon of democracy,” Fortin said. “We have information being disseminated below and decisions about our government being made above.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles