By Jessica Benda
As Irvine sketches the details of a massive Great Park expansion, it’s turning the page to a long-envisioned library.
The library is under the umbrella of the Great Park Framework Plan, a sprawling recreational blueprint that the City Council approved last summer. The project area spans 1,300 acres of proposed botanical gardens, meadows and infrastructure — and a new library to be included in Phase 1 of the project.
The library will be stationed by the eastern entrance, adjacent to what officials envision as the Veteran’s Memorial Park and Gardens.
Both sites are in the middle of large-scale demolition to pave the way for the upcoming structures. In the meantime, the city is locking down its design for the library.
Irvine’s Great Park framework plan includes an amphitheater, library, botanical gardens, a sports complex and more. (Image courtesy of the City of Irvine)
“We’re in the middle of the idea and fact-finding stage where we’re trying to pick up as much input as possible from stakeholders — such as community leaders, residents, people old and young and everywhere in between — to see what their vision is for a library that can be worthy of the city of Irvine,” said Councilmember Mike Carroll, who also chairs the Great Park board.
Officials are collecting public input via community meetings; one was held in October, and the next will be held on Nov. 16.
Carroll said many residents have called for a place that combines modern learning with traditional aisles of books, ideally on the collection scale of locales like the New York Public Library. He has high hopes for the children’s area along with a vast reference section to foster developing minds.
“That’s really the goal: that we create a place of learning where the youth of our city and beyond will be inspired to grow and to learn and to be better citizens,” Carroll said.
The library will be a part of the city of Irvine rather than the Orange County Public Library system — which means ownership and funding will fall to Irvine, Carroll said. He added that it would be a member of the greater inter-library lending system with the county.
Architecture company Johnson Favaro has partnered with the city for the planning and character development of its new library. It has a history with such projects, including Riverside’s Main Library and Costa Mesa’s Donald Dungan Library.
Research and development of the Great Park’s library design and programming will run through the end of January, said co-founder Steve Johnson. From there, the timeline is in the hands of elected leadership.
For Irvine residents, the library has been a long time coming. Consultants previously pitched design ideas to the City Council back in 2017 but little traction was made in the following years.
This time, Carroll said, the library “is actually going to be happening.”
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Johnson, who oversaw the last community meeting, said he heard consistently about the public’s desire to prioritize diverse collections, including a large international language collection of all genres and ages.
Another request is including recognition and resources regarding local history, dating back to Indigenous peoples and pre-state California — something that the library would be a perfect place for, Johnson said.
Books aren’t the only thing that the library needs to hold. Parking is one of the main architectural challenges. Not only does the lot need to hold enough cars for a large library, but it also needs to provide space for high-attendance events like book fairs and speaker series, along with spillover from other park activities.
“One of the councilmembers said it very well: We’re building the Great Park, not the Great Parking Lot,” Johnson said. “Nobody wants to create a library where you’re staring out at vast amounts of a surface parking lot. That destroys the ambition of the park so one of our key challenges is situating parking that is both plentiful and convenient but out of sight.”
Design options will be reviewed and discussed at the next community meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. at Lakeview Senior Center at 20 Lake Rd.