Construction at the Santa Barbara Central Library's Michael Towbes Plaza | Credit: Courtesy S.B. Public Library website

When the Santa Barbara Public Library broke ground on the Michael Towbes Library Plaza in May 2022 — part of a three-phase, $9.3 million project funded in a public-private partnership between the city and the Santa Barbara Public Library Foundation — it was expected to be ready for a grand opening ceremony on October 21, 2023.

But unexpected delays, supply chain snafus, and a torrential rain season have forced the expected opening date to be pushed back, according to an update provided by Library Director Jessica Cadiente. The new target date for the Towbes Plaza ribbon cutting is now set for sometime in spring 2024.  

“While we understand the excitement that the community has for this project and resultant disappointment about the delay, we remain committed to delivering a Library Plaza that exceeds expectations and serves as a hub for community and learning,” Cadiente told the Independent. “We are diligently working with the contractors to ensure the smooth and timely completion of the project.”

Cadiente revealed the information during the August 17 meeting of the city’s Library Advisory Board, which had been receiving monthly updates on the project for well over a year. The board’s chair, Margaret Crocco, said the frequent delays and lack of communication from the project contractor, Nationwide Contracting Services, has been a frustrating process almost from the start.

“It was one thing after another,” Crocco said.

Library fenced off in August 2022 | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

The problems started just a few months after the groundbreaking, when the city announced the library would be closed to the public for the entire month of August 2022 due to “unexpected challenges,” later revealed to be asbestos abatement, in the excavation of the central elevator for the first phase of the project (the renovations include a new ADA-compliant elevator, an updated staff level, and the $5.4 million Towbes Plaza). 

The elevator troubles, Crocco said, were an early sign that there was going to be more problems, and boardmembers began to have doubts about the choice to award the contract to the Huntington Beach–based Nationwide.

Public Works Director Cliff Maurer said the contractors “had some challenges sticking” to the schedule. “They got behind,” he said.

When the city was hit with record rains earlier this year, problems with transporting materials and dealing with the rain-soaked and muddy plaza caused further delays; a tile mosaic planned for the library was delayed because the tiles weren’t here yet; and the plaza also required an “intricate sandstone paver,” Maurer said, which is only available through one supplier and has still not been shipped.

At one point, he said, the city asked if the process could be expedited with a higher rate, but no amount of money could help the situation.

City Councilmember Eric Friedman, who was previously the president of the Library Foundation and who attended the August Library Board meeting as the council liaison, had a more optimistic outlook on the project despite the delays.

“It is disappointing that we’re not going to meet that timeline,” he told the Indy, “but it’s also important to have a larger perspective on the project.”

He remembers when the idea for a plaza was first floated during a library board meeting, sometime around 2007; when he was on the council and the project was almost fully designed, but not funded, and the city pitched in a half-million dollars to help get the design finalized; and the hard work of both the foundation and the city to help meet the goal of creating a new civic center.

“We’re almost there,” Friedman said. “But the good news is that, even with the delay, it will be the first major upgrade downtown. It’s permanent — a new public open space. That’s the way I look at it.”

With any luck, the city is hoping to host a grand opening for the Michael Towbes Library Plaza in early 2024.

Library Foundation Director Lauren Trujillo released a statement regarding the delay, saying the foundation believes “that this adjustment will allow us to avoid potential weather challenges and conflicts with holiday festivities, providing a more favorable environment for the event.”

“We are confident that this delay will be worth the wait, as the Michael Towbes Library Plaza will be a remarkable addition to our community,” Trujillo said. “Despite the construction uncertainties, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and engaging space for all Santa Barbara Public Library patrons and the community at large. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the community for their support and understanding during this adjustment. We can’t wait to celebrate the Michael Towbes Library Plaza with the community in 2024.”


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