UPDATE from Library Director Magnus Toren.

Though ground has yet to be broken — but when it is, we’ll probably have a party — the Library’s renovations are moving forward as swiftly as the machinations of county government, legal consultations, long leisurely afternoons, and other practical and necessary matters allow. Which, as you who actually read this, now realize is very, very, slow.

But before we take a closer look at the four main components of our renovation work — building a new water system, creating ADA-compliant bathrooms, developing a new parking plan — I want to update you on our capacity challenges. As you may have heard, Monterey County has mandated that we can have 120 people for normal Library gatherings, be it movie night, concerts, etc..

As things now have developed on the highway and the coast in general we fully embrace this limit as if handed down by a prescient County.  As it is our one access, Highway One, has recently reached beyond its carrying capacity. The highway is overwhelmed! (Covid 19 changed this! for a while)

 Future events will adhere to this lower-capacity policy in the recognition that visitor serving facilities, state and federal agencies, businesses, visitors and residents will all have to join in the effort to preserve Big Sur and its wild, rural and cultural values. Limiting the quantity of visitors at any one time will inevitably be part of that effort.

Future events will also adhere to this lower-capacity policy in an effort to help minimize congestion. (there may be exceptions where we implement a shuttle service to get to and from the Library).

We’re happy to report that holding events within the capacity limitations last summer worked great. That said, these limitations did have an adverse effect on our bottom line. It’s simple math. Previously for example, we’d host approximately 180 guest per movie night. If each guest donated $10, we’d take in $1,800. This summer, however, with 120 guests, our take dropped to $1,200. Spread across the summer — 12 movies nights plus two finales — we ended up approximately $8,500 in the hole over last year. And that’s just for movie nights. 

Fortunately, we — along with every other business in Big Sur — have seen a continual uptick in walk-in visitors over previous years which certainly helps to lessen the impact. Ironically, however, it’s precisely because more and more visitors keep pouring into Big Sur that we need to modernize our operations and help reduce the amount of people…Catch 22? We think not. We just see the inevitability of the need for balance. (How’s that for a segue?) Let’s start by installing a proper public water system.

Saying goodbye to our 1965-vintage water system

As we all know, the Henry Miller Memorial Library once was the home of his friend Emil White. The building was built in the mid 60s, and it opened to the general public in 1981. Needless to say, Big Sur of 1981 is a far cry from the Big Sur of 2020. As the Library has reluctantly grown, it has come to be rightfully viewed less as a private residential dwelling and more as a “public” space. And, under law, any public place has to have an approved “public” water system. But don’t we have water at the Library now? Yup, we do. It comes from a well behind the Library and we’ve been drinking it since 1965.

However, the current system doesn’t meet the requirements of an authorized “public” water system, and so we have to build one from scratch. With permits, engineering, construction and, in our case, easements and lot line adjustments with a neighbor, we estimate construction will cost at least $60,000. So where does the process currently stand? Our architects and the engineers have designed a proposed system that will reside on the hillside facing south of the Library property. Meanwhile, lawyers are looking into the agreements and easements, all in tandem with the planning department and the health department. We have been ‘close’ to having the agreements between us and the neighbor signed for seven years by now, but within 30 days after the agreement is reached, we should be able to give the plans to the contractor who will be starting the actual work of installing the system.!!!😊😭

Bathroom renovation: Demolition and construction

Now let’s look at renovating our bathrooms to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This legislation, which was enacted in 1990, sets out design and engineering standards to make public restrooms and other facilities accessible to disabled people. These standards apply to things like wheelchair access; proper heights and locations for sinks, counters, stalls, and urinals; acceptable floor space area size, and more. This element of the renovation will require the demolition of existing library structures like our storage shed on the northeast side of the property and the construction of a new bathroom from scratch.

Construction will encroach on our neighbor’s property and so we require a lot line adjustment to change our property lines. Once the adjustment is made, officials at the county Planning and Building and Health departments will sign off on the plan. In addition, our lawyers will finalize the lot line adjustment with our neighbor. The cost of this part of the plan is already up to over 55K and will surely be over 120K by the time we’re done! Which, at long last, brings us to our parking plan.

The parking plan

Visitors to the Library know that that sharp curve on the south end of the property can be a little tricky, and so we’re working to maximize visitor safety and to facilitate for handicap access. This requires resurfacing part of the  parking lot with asphalt, erecting signage that specifically shows reserved handicap parking, and using the spaces that we have inside the gate along the southern border.

The Archive Room at long last!

Plans have  been submitted to the County Planning Dept. for a secure and strong archive room designed by Studio Carver. It will provide  us with a safe space for all our archives including the two main collections: The Schnellock Collection and the William Ashley Collection. This is a dream has configured itself slightly sideways lately. The goal of being able to both care for and show our collections might be realized at a location more suitable to the north of us! So in closing we still have a bit to do and we’ll keep you posted.