At the May 2nd City Council meeting, a group of citizens sat in chambers waiting for the first of three administrative items listed on the agenda. This item of course was only a receive and file updating the council on the situation regarding the Carnegie Library, which as of now stands as the Chamber of Commerce building.
Assistant City Manager Andy Haussler read the report to council on the building and explained that the city itself has no legal ramifications to tell the Chamber of Commerce what to do with the building. Since 1976, the Chamber of Commerce has taken care of the building while the City of Clovis held a clause up until 2018 to be able to buy the building back.
In 2018, the City Council voted to release the Chamber of Commerce from their original agreement that would allow the city to buy the building back. Their original agreement stated that if the Chamber was not fulfilling the maintenance and repairs for the building, the city would be able to buy the building back in order to restore it properly. According to Haussler’s findings, the original agreement was not completed on the property of the building therefore questioning the legal status of that agreement. Therefore, the city has no legal interest in the property of the Carnegie Library.
The Chamber of Commerce wants to tear the building down and legally has nothing in its way of stopping it from doing that. However, a rather large group of citizens showed up to the meeting, in different colored bright t-shirts, demanding from the city that something be done in order to save the Carnegie Library.
According to citizen Sarah Miller and architect Paul Halajian, there were discussions with the Chamber of Commerce to build a plan to raise money to both save the building and to make the building comply with ADA laws, something that it currently does not do. Halajian set forth on creating the plan for the Chamber, that included putting numbers in terms of dollar amount towards saving the building, yet this is where the Chamber decided to stop meeting with the architect, according to Miller.
The plan included allowing the building to function as a contemporary modern office, create an assembly space, as well as keep the building standing. By the numbers of a petition created by those in chambers, a significant amount of citizens are invested in keeping to this last detail. The plan created by Halajian pro bono, was estimated to be around $2 to $3 million dollars, a number that has most likely changed since the time it was forecast. Miller finished her time at the podium believing that the Chamber is “intent on tearing down this building”.
Citizen Tom White came to the podium and stated strongly, “I can guarantee you and everybody here knows that if a bulldozer goes over there and starts knocking down that building, it’s gonna get really ugly.” White then explained that this type of contention could last “decades”. He then cited the commitment that the Chamber of Commerce made to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors that it would maintain the preservation of the Carnegie Library. “They made a commitment, and here we are fighting to save that building.”
William Smittcamp voiced his support at the meeting, saying “There’s plenty of support, you just need to open up the dialogue a bit and we’ll make it all happen.”
The council, without the presence of Councilman Bessinger and Mayor Jose Flores, recognized there were errors made on behalf of the city when they “did not file the reversionary interest in place with the county reporter that created a problem that had to be addressed in 2018,” according to Councilman Bob Whalen. He then explained that decision was how the Chamber was able to receive the building without reversionary interest. At the time it was thought that the “reversionary interest being eliminated was for the benefit of the Chamber so that they could reinvest in the construction or new construction of that same building,” according to Whalen.
Mayor Pro-Tem Lynne Ashbeck finished the receive and file by expressing her desire to create a Historical Preservation Committee. She stated that by holding onto what makes them different is what makes Clovis important as a community. Ashbeck thinks that this is the perfect time to get into a room to find a “common ground” in order to keep from becoming just “another suburb.”