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By Brian Park

If all goes according to plan, the Friends of the San Juan Capistrano Library bookstore will have a new place to call home.

On Tuesday night, the Friends of the Library and the city signed off on a memorandum of understanding — essentially a letter of intent — to relocate the Mollie Burke Bookstore from its current location in the rear of the library to a more visible area in the Bland Garden, which fronts El Camino Real.

“We’ve come a long way baby!” Friends of the Library Board President Jean Vincenzi said after the City Council came to a unanimous 5-0 decision.

Early design plans for the bookstore call for a new roof over the Bland Garden, double glass doors adjacent to El Camino Real, five windows and a copper awning with signage over the new doors. A separate entrance will allow the bookstore to remain open when the library is closed, Vincenzi said. The design plans were drawn by Planning Commissioner and architect Roy Nunn.

Mayor Larry Kramer highlighted the appeal of the current bookstore’s natural lighting and suggested future design plans include a skylight.

Under the terms of the memorandum, the Friends of the Library, an all-volunteer nonprofit dedicated to supporting the library and its programs, will pay for the project in its entirety. The group must first submit design plans acceptable to the city before they can solicit bids for construction.

Building permit fees will be determined once the city receives complete construction plans, according to the staff report. Any fee waivers have been deferred until those plans are submitted and evaluated to determine the project’s physical impact, City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said.

Former San Juan Capistrano Mayor and construction contractor Ken Friess has been volunteering his services to the Friends of the Library throughout all phases of the project. As a councilmember, Friess played a vital role in bringing the library to the city more than 30 years ago.

“I’m the contractor but not the contractor. I have no financial interest in this project except as a citizen,” Friess said. “When I was involved in the development of the library, the intent was for it to become a social core.”

Friess projects the cost of construction will be under $200,000 and that fees will range between $10,000-20,000.

The bookstore, which is staffed entirely by Friends of the Library volunteers, sells donated books for as low as $0.25 and LP record albums for $0.50 to $1.

“The bookstore may sound like it’s something small, but it’s not,” said Councilwoman Laura Freese, who added that the bookstore generates $2,000 a month from its current location. “If it’s in an area where it can be viewed and seen, we’re very sure it can more than double. That money goes straight back into fixing up the library.”

Plans to relocate the bookstore and expand the library go back to 2005. One plan to expand the western wing was deemed too expensive — $4 million, according to Friess — and was eventually shelved.

Another plan to modify the front entrance was halted, after the County of Orange disputed the amount of space near the entryway that would have been taken up by library functions. Out of that discussion, it was finally determined that the library was indeed a city-owned property, and new plans for the bookstore’s relocation began.

“In our community, everything that really happens in the library, from the standpoint of social interaction, the event organization, the book store activities, all of that is a result of the Friends and it wouldn’t exist if it were left to the county,” Friess said.

The San Juan Capistrano Library was designed by acclaimed architect Michael Graves, who endorsed the relocation of the book store in July. The library has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects and Newsweek magazine called it “the first authentic postmodern masterpiece.”

Vincenzi said it has yet to be determined if the bookstore will still be named after the late Mollie Burke, a longtime volunteer. She hopes that the new bookstore will be able to attract more people and visiting authors who wish to talk about their work.

“It’s one of those things that isso evidently good. We’re fantastically happy that this deal is done,” Vincenzi said on Wednesday.

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