Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Library Opens in San Diego
A Model of 21st Century Design: Long-Awaited Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Library Adds Value to Local Community
After years of planning and delays, the new Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Library opened earlier this year in San Diego. The presence of San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer and other local and state officials, plus the attendance of over 1,800 volunteers who lined the sidewalks to pass books to the new library, helped commemorate the opening of a vastly larger, state-of-the-art library to serve the city’s Hillcrest, Mission Hills, and other surrounding neighborhoods.
The $17 million library, which is named for the philanthropists who helped fund its construction, is projected to have approximately 350,000 visitors every year, and to add substantial value to the community by providing enhanced community rooms, gathering spaces and more for residents, especially teens and children. The project was in the works for two decades, delayed by financial issues in San Diego. It finally moved forward thanks to two $5 million grants from the Knox and Hervey families, plus $10 million from city infrastructure bond funds.
The new 15,000-square-foot facility is nearly four times larger than the 3,850 square-foot Mission Hills Branch Library, built in 1961, which it replaces. The library features designated spaces for teens and children, a community meeting area, study rooms, computer labs, drought-tolerant landscaping and an underground parking garage. Its design is pursuing Gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
The one-story library building sits above two levels of underground parking, with 85 spaces (a vast improvement over the nine parking spaces which were available at the old facility). It is located on Washington Street, between Front Street and First Avenue – adjacent to an elementary school on the south, and several blocks east of the old branch library.
Project Reflects Evolution of Library Design and Utilization
The Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Public Library was a design-build project led by Pasadena, California-based C.W. Driver Companies, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019. San Diego architectural firm Mosher Drew designed the initial project schematics, which were then further developed by Manuel Oncina Architects and Ferguson Pape Baldwin Architects, members of the C.W. Driver Design-Build team. The ultimate design incorporates both traditional craftsman and contemporary styles.
The project is C.W. Driver’s fourth library construction project to date in the San Diego area, and its first within the city itself, reports C. W. Driver Project Executive Andy Feth. “Mission Hills, Hillcrest, and the surrounding neighborhoods have seen immense growth in the last decade and the community is ready for an enhanced, state-of-the-art facility that will inspire those of all ages to come together to read, learn and work,” he says.
“This new library emphasizes children’s spaces and community computer/internet access. Fresh air and sunlight are welcome features, and public art, which is unique to each of the libraries we’ve done, makes a nice focus and gives the library a personal touch.”
The facility is designed to reflect how communities learn, work, and utilize civic space in the 21st century – providing larger gathering spaces and technological resources. The mission-style entry opens to an impressive lobby with a traditional reading room. The surrounding landscape incorporates drought tolerant plants.
The library’s community room is meant to be the focal point for library programs and community gatherings, such as hosted author talks, civic events, and community celebrations. This room features audio-visual equipment and opens to a 1,400-square-foot outdoor patio with large accordion-style glass doors.
“There is great natural light at the center of the building,” Feth states. “Wood trellises were added to the 25-foot-high ceiling to bring down the scale and define some areas. The interior is a continuation of the craftsman-style exterior, with wood finishes and larger structural exposed components which help celebrate that style.
“A real plus to the community is The Friends Room, which provides a retail space for Friends of the Mission Hills-Hillcrest Branch Library book sales, or a venue for other events.”
Site, Parking Needs Presented Challenges
The Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Public Library is located on the site of the old International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) office building and parking lot; the City of San Diego purchased the property in 2004. “Demolition of the old building began in May 2017, and construction of the new building was completed in October 2018 – six months ahead of schedule,” Feth reports. “We didn’t have a lot of weather issues, and the allowable contract time was ample for design and permitting efficiency. There was a smooth flow through the process.
“We used the same team on this project as on our three previous library projects in San Diego County,” he points out.
While the construction process went smoothly, Feth says the site itself presented some challenges. “The site was really constrained, with a school on the south side and a busy street to the north,” he relates. “The only access was on the east side, and that was from a cul-de-sac. We met and worked extensively with those neighbors to minimize the disruption. At the end of the project, we had to re-asphalt that street and repair the curbs.
“The library is in an older part of town, and we had to dig down two levels. We weren’t sure what kind of fill we’d encounter, such as construction debris or asphalt, which is considered contaminated. Storm water treatment and runoff from the project was another issue we addressed. We had to build a structural vault to collect water and enter the city storm drain at a metered rate.”
The inclusion of two levels of underground parking was somewhat unique, Feth says, but essential because the new library is on a tight site filled with buildings on all sides. “With the library’s design, there is no surface parking available on-site, and parking on the streets in this busy area is difficult,” he explains. “The old IBEW building on this site had surface parking, and we needed to find a way to continue that parking availability. The underground structure makes parking available for both the library and the community.”
Feth says optimizing all building systems – electrical to shading, photovoltaic array, LED lights, etc. – is key to LEED certification. “We incorporated a VRF (variable refrigerant flow) HVAC system which is very efficient. There was an enhanced commissioning process at the end of the project to fine tune all building systems to optimum operating levels.
“Landscaping options were a little limited in this space, but we did make extensive use of low-water-use plants and a green wall in the patio area. This added some relief and depth to an otherwise plain stucco wall, while also helping with our LEED certification.”
One of the most distinctive and publicized components of the new library is its 1,600-square-foot children’s area, which features its own computer lab, a 384-square-foot teen area, a 400-square-foot garden, a large meeting room, four study rooms, an adult computer area and an “idea lab” that offers 3-D printing and other technology. This part of the library has a “Lord of the Rings” Hobbit house-like design.
Feth comments, “The Hobbit house theme, which continues the stone features of the exterior inside the library, defines this space to be welcoming to children – it’s scaled for children, and isn’t overwhelming.”
‘So Much More Than Books’
At the time of the groundbreaking ceremony for the library, Mayor Kevin Faulconer pointed out,“Libraries are so much more than books – they’re spaces where families gather, students learn, and communities grow.” Reflecting on the project’s completion, Feth says, “In general, libraries today are very different; a modern library is really more of a community gathering space – designed with large expanses of glass, and patios or other spaces which can be utilized for a range of events.”
With its major enhancements in size, availability and accessibility of materials and technology, and spaces designed to welcome all ages, the Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley and Bessie Knox Library is one of the most significant indicators of San Diego’s library renaissance and uptown revitalization momentum.