City of Porterville announcement millions in funds for new library

A $7.2 million grant from California State Library’s Building Forward Library Improvement Grant Program to help rebuild the cities library

PORTERVILLE – Porterville City Library will be rebuilt following an announcement by the city of Porterville. In place of the library ravaged by fire more than two years ago will be a new $7.2 million facility. 

The city of Porterville will receive $7,263,158.00 of grant funding to build a new library after their previous library burned down and took the lives of two firefighters in 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced $254 million in grants would be put toward library renovation throughout the state. The city is looking forward to the new library after two years dealing with the loss of the previous one, according to city librarian Vikki Cervantez.

“It’s just one of those big, heartfelt things that you feel so proud of. [The city] has definitely expressed how much they missed us and my eyes are getting a little teary just talking about it,” Cervantez said.

The city expects to begin construction in 2023 or early 2024, and will be built in a new location across the street from the South County Justice Center. The new facility will be 40,000 square feet and will cost roughly $30 million dollars, according to the city of Porterville’s press release. The remaining funding needed will come from various sources, such as insurance, American Rescue Plan Act funds, donations and other potential grant options. 

This grant is the first half of the California State Library’s $439 million Building Forward Library Improvement Grant Program. It is the biggest grant to be put toward libraries in the state’s history, according to their website.

“Funded projects range from HVAC system upgrades and repairs, to roof replacements, to new library buildings, including for the city of Porterville whose library was destroyed in a 2020 fire.” California State Library website stated.

This grant comes two years after Porterville’s library burned to the ground on Feb. 18, 2020. Captain Ray Figueroa, 35, and firefighter Patrick Jones, 25, were killed as a result of the blaze. Evidence and witnesses put two 13-year-old boys at the scene. 

That case was decided in August where charges of murder and arson were cleared for one of the boys, but just the murder charge was lifted for the second. The case was tried in the juvenile court system, and the names are not released for that reason.

After the library fell, there was a temporary library set up on Olive Ave. that opened on July 1 of this year, according to Cervantez. The city made the most of the 8,000 square feet interim location, and it was received well by the city, but a new library facility is much needed in the community, according to Cervantez.

“Our tragic fire really turned things upside down for us,” Cervantez said. “It’s more about the fallen heroes and the lives lost. A facility and things in the facility could be replaced, it’s just a big heartache for the community and mourning the loss of our fallen heroes, as well as the loss of their community library.”

Elderly residents come in droves even to the temporary location, but as school begins, more college and high school students also flock to the small temporary library. Many students went from the library fire, to the pandemic, to digital learning, so Cervantez said she was nervous that students would not want to use physical copies of books anymore. However, Cervantez said parents also come in “droves” to get school material for their children.

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