Historic building to become University Heights library?

Shared–use space for the community and school district envisioned

For several years, the University Heights Community Development Corporation has been pushing to acquire the old Teachers Training Annex 1, owned by the San Diego Unified School District. The development corporation’s plan would renovate the 1910 structure and make it the new University Heights Branch Library (replacing the small library building at 4193 Park Boulevard).

The building is a National Register of Historic Places site and currently part of the school district's education-center complex along Normal Street (at El Cajon Boulevard).

Also advocating to save the Italian Renaissance Revival–style building is Save Our Heritage Organisation. According to the organization’s website, “Originally functioning as a living laboratory for student teachers, [the building] was transferred to the City of San Diego Schools in 1931 and served as the original Alice Birney Elementary School until 1951.”

Also, according to Save Our Heritage Organisation, “The structure was eventually delegated for records storage and has been left to steadily, and visibly, deteriorate for decades.”

However, the annex is “no longer used for records storage” since the building has not undergone seismic retrofitting, said district spokesman Jack Brandais.

Bruce Coons, executive director of SOHO, was asked about possible support from mayor-elect Kevin Faulconer and council president Todd Gloria.

“Yes, we will be asking for Kevin's help on this,” said Coons in an interview. “I don't know if Civic San Diego will have a role, but that may be a good question for us to ask both Todd and Kevin, as Civic SD is seeking an expanded role to survive.”

Midori Wong, director of the school district’s special projects, said, “The district has been in communication with the University Heights Library Task Force with regard to Annex 1 for some time. Superintendent Cindy Marten and I attended a meeting of the group last fall. The district continues to be very supportive of ongoing dialogue around the future of the building.”

Ronald V. Johnston is chair of the University Heights development corporation’s library task force. In an email, he said he has “done all of the negotiations, and reached agreements with the school board and school district. The city is not, and never will be buying the land or building.” Johnston added: “The land and building is owned by the school district, and the library is to be a JOINT USE library as well as a shared–use space for the community and school district.”

Coons is skeptical that progress is being made. He previously stated that the building “sits in a state of demolition by neglect. The powers–that–be appear to simply be waiting until it's conveniently too late to save this uniquely grand piece of local history.”

The renovation cost would be substantial. Johnston said “the extensive evaluation of the building, which was done by the architectural firm of Fields Devereaux, estimated the cost to approach $10 million. That was a few years ago, so that number could be higher or lower now.” As for funding, Johnston said their “current goal is to get the project included in the city's infrastructure bond issue funding.”

(revised 2/24 4:10 p.m.)

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The three concerned governing bodies(SDUSD BOE, Library Board, and SD City Council) need to somehow come together and made a joint assessment of the relative value of demolition and recycling the usable material in this eyesore for the purpose of building a new, attractive, multi-use structure for the citizens of San Diego. The current building has all the historic and architectural significance of a brick lying in the middle of a lawn. I have nothing against utilitarian rectangle shaped buildings with no artistic value that have served their purpose. I simply see no need to waste money preserving them for all eternity.

Spoken like someone who has never gotten out of his car and taken a closer look!

Call me crazy but that looks like one of the moe attractive buildings here. Modern, please no.

Even at the old library at 8th & E streets, parking was never free ($1.25/hr). If you park at the library itself, first 2 hours are free then $1.25/20 minutes up to $21/day. You can park across the street in the huge, empty parking lot for $5/all day. You can take the trolley - don't know your age so can't say what you might pay as a non-senior but I'm able to park somewhere else near a trolley station and pay $1.25 each way on the trolley,or take the bus; both stop very close to the library. What I usually do, however, is park 4-5 blocks away at one of the green-top parking meters, $1/hr for up to 4 hours. Library entrance is at 11th & K (or 12th St. side) and I usually park up on E, F or G St. or on 10th or 11th, same vicinity. It's not exactly a long walk unless you have mobility issues - in which case you can park free (I believe this is the case) with a handicapped placard or license plate at any metered space, even within 1 or 2 blocks of the library.

More attractive, who are you promoting Gary?

I do not promote anyone or any entity. The above comment was strictly my personal opinion. Valued at precisely the same level as anyone else's.

C'mon Mr. Allmon. It's rumored that you are a partner in the Allmon Brothers (no relation to The Allman Brothers) Recycling Center in Santee, and would be a likely bidder on the property recycling contract if demolition were to take place at this site. ;-)

I was born here in 1970. This building is part of my heritage and I think it is indeed one of the more attractive buildings. Take a look at the woodwork eaves, peek in the windows, then imagine it restored to it's full glory. It needs to stay. Who am I promoting? San Diego history.

Response to Glenn Younger's comment via Facebook:

Exactly! That's why I tried to get copies of any written agreements from the UH Library Task Force, and apparently there aren't any. Letters of support, enthusiastic speakers at meetings, suckup comments from politicians, petitions from the public, etc. are NOT "agreements." With public agencies, agreements are legal documents that must be signed by the mutual parties, e.g., the Superintendent of Schools and/or the School Board President, the City (Mayor and/or City Council President), and probably the Library Board President. And lawyers go over every page with a finetooth comb before anyone gets out a pen to sign it. Mr. Johnston today sent me a copy of his May 16, 2013 letter to then-Mayor Filner, saying he [Johnston] was "delighted to hear your enthusiasm and commitment to this project." There's no agreement there! He also sent a copy of a May 4, 2010 letter to 3rd District Councilmember Todd Gloria. The letter states in part: "The School Board gave unanimous support, with a 5-0 vote, in support of the project and its joint-use goal, but this was a 'closed session' and there is no official, written documentation of that outcome." Again, that is NOT an agreement. It's merely a vote of support, and that has little or no legal standing.

Re the statement about the School Board support of this project, I made a California Public Records Act request to SDUSD for details on that closed session and vote. I was told I would get a response by March 21 (they implemented a 14-day extension from my original request on February 26).

I won't debate the esthetics of the building. My questions is what is the best use of a historic property on a good chunk of highly valuable land? I'd suggest selling some of the land to a developer with an agreement to repair the building for public use. Or, if financially feasible, develop the upper floor for market value housing while retaining the bottom floor for commercial use. The school district might actually be able to negotiate a deal to make a profit with proceeds going towards apprenticeship programs for students to learn about building trades. Maybe, students could actually obtain hands on experience assisting in restoring the building.

Actually, I just heard from a UH business person, who says SDUSD wants to develop their whole property there. One idea floated was that the developer would build new offices for the District, and would receive the rest of the land for commercial/residential development.

I apologize to Gary. You see what you see. I see a landmark stone building that hasn't been bulldozed over, yet. Local library and learning center would be great. Downtown library, I'm not a fan, parking priced prohibitive.

Many users of the downtown library walk or take the bus/trolley to get there. I have no idea what the parking costs, as I don't drive anymore.

Regarding this project, I'm "Swiss" (neutral). But these types of preservation/adaptive reuse projects always come down to ownership and money. Who would ultimately own that building? The City of San Diego, the school district, a nonprofit foundation, or what? And, if an actual agreement (meaning a signed legal contract) is ever made, will they be able to raise the $10 million or so to make it happen? Remember how difficult it was to raise the huge cost of the downtown library, and how many years went by before the first shovelful of dirt there. And right now the City is scrambling to get its Centennial celebration off the ground.

DB - thank you for the research. Love open grass but soon there will be none here.

It's been tricky researching this topic to get the full story, as some individuals would not respond with a statement for my article. That includes the president of the SD school board, and the CEO of the SD Public Library Foundation.

Finally, it looks like UH people will stop yammering about turning the moldy Teachers Annex into a new UH library. In a front page editorial, the UH Community Assn. News wrote (in part) that "we do not believe a city branch library will ever be built at that location." And hopefully, Ronald V. Johnston will stop being the pipe-dreaming cheerleader for the fanciful project.

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