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California City Solutions: Highland Partners to Design First of Its Kind Library/Environmental Learning Center

June 27, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Highland’s Library/Environmental Learning Center was submitted in 2013 for the CCS Partnership Intergovernmental Collaboration award category.

Earlier last decade, the city of Highland wanted to build a new library that would accommodate the growing community. The city, San Bernardino County Library and San Bernardino City Unified School District partnered to design a facility with updated technology, educational programs and environmental learning centers. Not only does the new state-of-the-art library/learning center offer a wealth of modern resources, the sustainability features meet an essential goal for city leaders. This is also the first library/environmental learning center combination in the United States.
Before the project began, the partnership solicited feedback through focus groups, administered multiple surveys to various categories of users, and held community, small group, and one-to-one meetings.
Based on outreach results, the group determined two main objectives: create an atmosphere where children and adults could access technology and learn about the environment they live in, and design a sustainable and environmentally friendly library to minimize energy and operating costs. The previous library facility had remained unchanged for 28 years, making it inadequate to meet the demands of Highland’s diverse community.
Following the lead of the American Library Association’s “Libraries Build Sustainable Communities” model, the new library/environmental learning center needed to provide an educational environment and resources covering issues such as neighboring forestland, watershed, and air resource management.
Funding for the library/environmental learning center came from several sources including a California State Library Bond Act grant ($5,165,070), with additional funding from the Highland Redevelopment Agency, San Bernardino County, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Highland Sam J. Racadio Library and Environmental Learning Center, named for Highland’s first city manager (1987-2006), officially opened its doors in May 2008. The 30,000 square foot facility comprises a Discovery Room, an Exhibit Room, an enclosed outdoor auditorium, and a 15,000 square foot rooftop garden area for outdoor programming and displays.
The Discovery Room displays a collection of living and nonliving exhibits of animals, reptiles, amphibians, plants, and aquaria, as well as informational links to print and electronic information that can be found in other areas of the library.
The Exhibit Room has permanent and rotating interactive displays on a number of environmental topics ranging from consumer recycling and energy conservation to green architecture and sustainable building examples. Permanent displays include a Living Machine® and Living Wall® to demonstrate the air and water cleansing processes of nature.
The rooftop area includes a weather station, a display of solar applications, a composting demonstration, organic garden plot, native species garden, aquatic pond, and other activities to engage students and teachers in tactile and experiential learning. Gardens are used to grow food for a number of the animals housed in the critter area.
The facility is equipped with a contemporary information technology system. It is the hub of a 30-acre city-owned redevelopment site that contains the 20,000 square foot Jerry Lewis Community Center and a 17-acre Sports and Recreation Complex, making this area ideal for families to visit, relax, learn and participate in community events.
Among the many displays and interactive activities, is a geographic information system (GIS) kiosk. The kiosk uses ArcReader and ArcGIS Online software to promote the use of maps for environmental purposes by those doing research or who are simply curious about a particular place.
Activities, crafts, programs, resources and materials have been developed for K-12 students in accordance with the priorities established in the Needs Assessment for the Environmental Learning Center.
An elementary school library staffed by a school technician provides a joint use library environment for students performing research, study and homework assignments. Shared library electronic and telecommunication services provide resources that complement the curriculum of K-12 students.
Over 100 computers and wireless internet are available for public use. Services include Wide-Area Network connections between the public library and public schools, collaborative electronic resource database licenses and training, collaborative catalog access, and shared circulation systems and training. Every day programs for adults, young adults, and children are also available. The combination of an environmental learning center and a public school library makes this project very unique.
LEED Certified
Sustainable design and energy efficiency features can be found throughout the Library/Environmental Learning Center. The building is certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) Standards.
It is built with 28 percent recycled materials, provides extensive use of natural light, uses a high efficiency heating and cooling system and features a rooftop landscape as natural insulation. This feature substantially increases the amount of green space and also mitigates stormwater runoff.
The library has an expanded collection of 128,000 items, 2 group study rooms, 100 computers, a quiet room, a 100 seat meeting room, conference rooms, a computer lab, two individual tutoring/study rooms, and more. The statistics for the year prior to opening the new building in 2007 and the year after the library opened demonstrate some of the increased needs that the new facility is able to meet.
Number of patrons:
  • 2007-2008: 112,049
  • 2008-2009: 214,518 (91 percent increase)
Circulation of materials:
  • 2007-2008: 19,447
  • 2008-2009: 34,462 (77 percent increase)
Children from the community now have the ability to learn about recycling, the ecosystem and other environmental issues, in addition to accessing a fully functioning library. Through the extensive and collaborative efforts of the partnership, the new facility addresses the current and future needs of the community.

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