A City Council committee voted 4-0 today to move the schoobrary proposal forward to the full eight-member council, a day after a divided San Diego Unified school board gave its approval to the preliminary agreement.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, whose district includes downtown, said the library would be an essential branch library for those living downtown and an asset to those throughout the city. He added the building can only go forward if it pencils out and stressed the need for an updated cost estimate, which library boosters also called for.

Mel Katz of the San Diego Public Library Foundation said he was confident an updated price tag would still come in around the $185 estimate last updated in 2005, citing the opinions of construction officials working on the project.

But Faulconer said, “If it’s too much higher than that, it may not happen.”

The full City Council is expected to vote next month on whether to sign a nonbinding letter of intent with the school district, which would agree to put $20 million from a recently passed school bond into the project. The district would lease the sixth and seventh floors of the nine-story building for 40 years for a charter high school.

Faulconer and Councilman Todd Gloria agreed with library boosters that funding was likely to roll in if the City Council moves forward with the project. Katz said the problem with raising money hasn’t been a lack of potential donors, but the belief the library won’t get built.

Council members asked for a listing of how much downtown property tax money goes to the school district, referencing a report from the city’s independent budget analyst suggesting the city seek more money from the school district or a shorter lease term.

Jim Barwick, director of the city’s Real Estate Assets Department, said those points were crucial to the district. “I think those points are fixed,” he said.

If the council signs off on the letter of intent — and the formal memorandum of understanding with the school district — construction officials could take new bids starting in November and have a new guaranteed maximum price by April 2010. On that schedule, the schoobrary could open in 2013. City officials said they would need $500,000 more from downtown redevelopment funds to pay for the bidding process.

The city also must update the state by July 1 to hang on to a $20 million grant that’s essential for construction.


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