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San Diegans will receive all the central library they were promised almost five years ago, a city contractor said Monday.

Same design. Same construction materials. Same price.

The only difference is that it could be open 30 percent less than expected.

For years, the focus on the new main library has been the cost to build it. Last week, the mayor affirmed that price tag at $185 million. This summer City Council will decide if it wants to pay that amount for a schoobrary, a main library/charter school hybrid.

Before it does, the council will know how much it will cost to operate the facility. Library officials are preparing a new estimate that will project staffing costs as if the new library were open as often as the current one: 44 hours a week.

That’s 20 fewer hours each week than library officials had hoped as recently as two years ago and includes Saturday closures.

City budget cuts also have sliced city branch library hours from nearly 51 hours a week in 2000 to mostly 36 hours now.

Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said Mayor Jerry Sanders’ office hadn’t decided how many operating hours it would recommend for the library when the mayor seeks the council’s approval for the project this summer.

A $20 million state grant requires the city begin construction by Aug. 1. The project is scheduled for completion in 2013.

“It’s pretty much going to be budget driven,” Goldstone said. “If the economy has turned around and we’re starting to restore hours then we would look at the central library as well.”

Library boosters have argued the schoobrary wouldn’t affect the city’s strained day-to-day operating budget. Funding for construction is coming from the city’s downtown redevelopment agency, a state grant, the school district and private donations.

But the new library — about double the library space of the current facility — will cost more to operate. How much depends on how many hours it’s open. The San Diego Public Library Foundation has $10 million in pledges to cover the first five years of increased operating costs, a foundation trustee Sara Napoli said.

View more news videos at:
San Diego Explained: Schoobrary. In partnership with NBC 7/39.

Those pledges were based on the library being open 52 hours a week, and Napoli said she wasn’t sure how reduced hours could affect them.

But Napoli said the state of the economy made it premature to know how often the new library would be open.

“Our wish list is that the all libraries, including the central, would be open as many hours as possible,” Napoli said.

Opponents of the schoobrary project have focused their criticism around the amount of hours the library would be open and how staffing would be paid for.

In the fall, Councilman Carl DeMaio had a tete-a-tete with Goldstone over the issue. DeMaio said the city didn’t have the donations it needed to cover operating cost increases, and Goldstone said the city had enough pledges to pay for reduced operating hours.

DeMaio also has pointed out that the lease with the San Diego Unified School District eliminated a previous source of operating revenue. The city originally had planned to lease the upper floors of the library to a business that would generate about $1 million a year in revenue. Instead, the school district took the space for $20 million, which is going toward construction costs.

Councilwoman Donna Frye, also a project opponent, said in an interview that the schoobrary’s operating hours would be important to her consideration of the project.

“It’s important that the people actually have money for their existing library services and that those services aren’t reduced in order to get something that may or not be operational and functional in four years,” Frye said.

More than a school or library, boosters have said, the schoobrary would serve as a center for community meetings and gatherings.

Reduced operating hours, Goldstone said, shouldn’t affect that argument. Even if operations stay at 44 hours per week, the city could change when the library is open to add Saturday hours at the expense of other times in the week, he added.

“It’s a matter of what we can afford to deliver and where the demands are,” Goldstone said.

In previous construction cost estimates, Turner had removed a 350-seat auditorium removed and put in less expensive ceiling panels and flooring.

City officials haven’t answered a request for documents submitted by Turner detailing the schoobrary’s price tag. But a Turner vice president said there were no changes to the schoobrary’s design or construction materials in its cost estimate. The less expensive ceiling and flooring remain, and auditorium has been added back into the plans.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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