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Our Community Focus

Mayor's Message Pleasant Hill

Oct 02, 2017 01:58PM ● By Michael Harris

If You Build It, They Will Come

By Michael G. Harris, OD, Mayor of Pleasant Hill

The line "If you build it, they will come” is from one of my favorite movies, Field of Dreams, and refers to the building of an iconic baseball field in the heartland of Iowa. I'm using it to refer to the building of an iconic new library in the core of Pleasant Hill.

When I first ran for City Council in 2002, one of my primary goals was to get a new library for our community. I wrote, “Pleasant Hill deserves a modern, state-of-the-art library that will meet our future needs.” I’ve been committed to that goal ever since. Some 15 years later, that dream is going to be a reality!  

For over three years, Pleasant Hill has been working to replace our aging library. Although the Pleasant Hill Library is the most popular in the County, with over 1,200 daily visitors, the building is 66 years old and well beyond its shelf life. The County estimated it would cost over $10 million to make repairs and upgrades.

The obvious solution is a new library. The City Council took the first step in making that a reality when it formed the Pleasant Hill Library Task Force in March 2014. The Task Force was comprised of various stakeholders in our community. Its mission was “to explore the need for and feasibility of building a new library.”

After numerous visits to locations around town and other libraries and much deliberation, the Task Force concluded that a new 20,000 to 25,000 square feet library should be constructed on one of two parcels located off Oak Park Boulevard – the first being the current library site and the second, the large vacant lot across Monticello Avenue from the current library. In March 2015, the City Council accepted this recommendation from the Task Force. 

The Task Force quickly realized that if we were going to see a new facility, it would require substantial funding through a bond or tax measure. In November 2016, Measure K, a sales tax measure providing more than $4 million per year for the next 20 years, passed with overwhelming support. This revenue will ensure sufficient funds to build the library, estimated to cost about $20-25 million.

The agreement between the Rec & Park District and the County on the sale of the current library site allows the current library to remain open until April 2021. The City is working with the County to transfer three acres on the east side of Monticello Avenue for the construction of the new library at no cost to the City.

After their agreement, the City issued a Request for Proposals from architects for the design of the library and received eleven excellent proposals from distinguished firms. Shortly thereafter, City and library staff, Councilmember Noack, and I interviewed six firms, narrowed the list down to three finalists, and made site visits to some of their completed projects. After careful review of all of the material presented by the three finalists, we agreed to recommend the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson to provide architectural and design services for the construction of our new library. On September 18, the Council agreed with the recommendation and authorized the City to proceed with contract negotiations with the firm.

BCJ is a national design firm founded in 1965, with offices in San Francisco. BCJ, renowned for its exceptional design and skillset, has received more than 650 regional and international awards for design and sustainability. They bring a project team with decades of experience in major public projects.

BCJ has designed the UC Davis Shrem Museum of Art, the Presidio Visitor Center, Newport Beach Civic Center & Library, Ballard Library in Seattle, Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, and Mills College School of Business. They are also responsible for the design of landmark Apple stores worldwide.

Their team includes Margaret Sullivan Studio, a design firm specializing in “programming and designing the library of the 21st century.” MSS is fully committed to a robust community engagement process, including extensive workshops and focus group meetings throughout the design phase of the project. Ms. Sullivan is a national leader in the visioning, programming, and interior design of public libraries of the future. I’m delighted about her involvement in our project.

We anticipate that BCJ will begin a comprehensive community outreach program in late fall and continue into 2018. Our goal is to complete the schematic design phase in 16 months, leading to a bid award for construction in 2019. We hope to have the library completed and ready for occupancy by the spring of 2021.

What does your dream library look like? We seek to include everyone in the process of imagining our library of the future, including our youngest residents.  That's why I am announcing a Student Design Challenge for the month of October to coincide with the Citywide Read. All students residing in Pleasant Hill or attending Pleasant Hill Schools (K-12 grades) are invited to submit designs. 

Students in grades K-5 should focus on the children's area of the new library. Students in middle and high school should focus on the teen area. All submissions should also include a narrative description under 1,000 words.  One outstanding design in five separate age categories will be awarded, and cash prizes of $200 will be presented to their schools from the Friends of the Library. Please read the complete rules and guidelines on the Citywide Read page at or contact [email protected] for more information. Be sure to bring your submission to the Pleasant Hill Library by October 31. 

The Friends of the Library will be starting a fundraising campaign to help pay for the furnishings, fixtures, and equipment needed for the new library. Look for more details on this opportunity to have a major impact in our community in the near future.

I hope you are as excited about our new library as I am. Libraries make communities stronger. When we build it, they will come!

 (I thank Martin Nelis for his help with this column.)