Home > News > News Articles > 2014 > October > California City Solutions: Santa Clarita’s Old Town Newhall Library Brings the Community Back to Mai
News Feed

California City Solutions: Santa Clarita’s Old Town Newhall Library Brings the Community Back to Main Street

October 24, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
The 2014 entries are available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. The Old Town Newhall Library was submitted in 2014 for the Public Works, Infrastructure, and Transportation award category.
 
The City of Santa Clarita’s new 30,000 square-foot library in Old Town Newhall is one of the largest and most complicated public works projects the city’s history. Built in 1957, the original 4,000 square-foot library became run down and antiquated although it remained heavily used by the community. City leaders knew this downtown district needed new life but the Great Recession and the loss of redevelopment made this challenging. Through perseverance the city in 2012 opened a new state-of-the-art library and Main Street corridor, creating a flourishing arts and entertainment district.
 
While other areas thrived, Santa Clarita’s once historic Old Town Newhall community began to suffer its economic decline as subdivisions in neighboring areas emerged in the late 1980s. The dilapidated Main Street business district lacked the charm and polish that a California historic point of interest would typically feature. Vacant deteriorated buildings, struggling businesses and few pedestrian facilities made up the neighborhood. The downtown area mixed automotive repair shops with eateries, struggling thrift shops, markets and no public meeting space.
 
Old Town Newhall’s public works infrastructure needed major improvements. The business district was in a Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain, undersized water lines were creating low water line pressure which would be insufficient for new development, overhead utility lines and billboards prevented multi-story development. Additionally, the corridor had a 45 mph speed limit which was too fast for pedestrian traffic. Roadways needed realignment and re-striping, and curbs, gutters, and sidewalks were disconnected, making it difficult for pedestrians and bicyclists.
 
A redevelopment plan for the Newhall Project Area was outlined with a mix of residential, commercial, and public uses along the community’s central corridor, and a technologically advanced Old Town Newhall Library, complete with suitable children’s spaces and ADA compliant, that would serve at the focal point at the north end of Main Street.
 
Several meetings and workshops were held with a group of committees, city staff and community members starting from pre-design and continuing through the conceptual drawings. The community’s involvement was a key element to the planning process, including determining the building’s size and amenities, as well as becoming Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certified. LEED is a green building certification program recognizing best-in-class building strategies and practices.
 
The new library was strategically placed along the corridor to transform a thoroughfare into a three way T-intersection to slow traffic and create an inviting atmosphere for pedestrians. Five dilapidated buildings and a billboard were demolished along with clean-up of hazardous waste on the property site. A cul-de-sac and neighboring road segment were vacated and reconfigured to shift vehicle traffic to another signalized intersection. A historic 1906 jail was preserved on the project site and is now prominently featured as a historical resource.
 
Efforts to address infrastructure related challenges and encourage private redevelopment endeavors resulted in improvements to water lines and changes to the FEMA floodplain. A new 24-inch water line upgrade allows for adequate fire flow to accommodate future infill development of the ten-block business district. This greatly reduces costs for businesses and property owners in Old Town Newhall area.
 
During the construction process, the library building’s foundation was raised to remove the building from FEMA’s floodplain. Public Works staff completed map revisions with FEMA, removing several blocks of the business district south of the library from the floodplain. Property and business owners can now redevelop existing buildings or build new ones without enduring costly floodplain requirements.
 
Crews transformed Main Street with new sidewalks, crosswalks, street lights, curbs, catch basins, street furniture and other decorative elements. Landscaped parkways and trees were installed to separate sidewalks from the traffic lanes and beautify the area. Cable, electrical, and phone lines were placed underground and out of sight. Four lanes of traffic narrowed down to two with on-street angled parking for Main Street patrons. A five-block streetscape project created a pedestrian friendly pathway to the library. One block away, on Railroad Avenue, traffic lanes expanded from two to four lanes to redirect higher speed traffic.
 
The Old Town Newhall Library and associated projects provided the physical transformation to connect the residential and commercial areas of this neighborhood.
 
After 18 months of construction, the Old Town Newhall Library opened its doors in September 2012. Nearly 4,000 residents, business owners and officials attended the grand opening event.
 
Since its opening, the new library branch has welcomed more than 631,000 visitors, circulated more than 770,000 materials, and experienced 40,000 people attending programs and events.
 
The library serves both the adjacent neighborhoods, and more than 50 square miles of Santa Clarita Valley. One of the most use libraries in Los Angeles Counties it has issued approximately 20,000 new library cards.
 
The new branch features technology cutting-edge tech lab, 104 computers, 36 laptops and 10 children’s learning computers. In addition, it includes a youth story time room, teen room, study rooms, and a community meeting room with a capacity of more than 100 people. Program attendance, requests for materials and technology use continues to grow.
 
To further encourage development, the city adopted a mixed-use overlay zone for the commercial area which includes the library site. The zone provides a mechanism to revitalize older commercial buildings, increase opportunities for infill housing, and encourage development that creates pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. As a result of zoning and increased foot traffic to and from the library, restaurants have introduced sidewalk dining, creating an inviting pedestrian atmosphere.
 
Improvements to the Old Town Newhall area as a result of the new library have provided incentives to incoming local businesses. Following the library’s opening, 22 new businesses located in the area, including boutique clothing stores, home décor retailers, restaurants, wine bars, hair salons and day spas. Many property owners have refreshed building fronts to make their curbside appearance more appealing.
 
The area has even enjoyed resurgence as an Arts and Entertainment District, with monthly and annual events attracting several thousand people to Old Town Newhall.
 
Santa Clarita met the challenge to create a catalyst for future improvements. The Old Town Newhall Library stands as more than a public facility, but as a symbol of a re-emerging community.


 
© League of California Cities