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At last Wednesday’s State of the City address, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders trumpeted progress on the new downtown schoobrary — the $185 million central library/charter school that was approved in June. The schoobrary broke ground in July.

“In the months since that groundbreaking,” Sanders said, “71 new donors have stepped forward with cash or pledges.”

Sanders didn’t say how much they gave. The answer might be a clue why.

Library boosters said they have raised $2.29 million toward the facility since June. This pace would leave them more than $25 million short by next January’s deadline to have $32.5 million in private funding.

Without that money, the city would have to stop construction with just the library’s shell complete. Or any private shortfall could leave taxpayers on the hook to finish the library, despite promises from Sanders’ office and library boosters that no more public dollars would go toward the project.

Mel Katz, who’s helping to spearhead the project for the San Diego Public Library Foundation, remained steadfast that taxpayers shouldn’t worry. Seven-figure gifts are in the offing, he said.

“We really spent the time between the groundbreaking, which was July 28th, and now doing a lot of research,” Katz said.

In a fundraising update released Friday, the foundation said it had gone on a fundraising retreat in September, hired a new financial officer and “has identified more than 150 prospective major donors.”

“I think you will see some very large gifts starting to come in based on the amount of work we’ve done,” Katz said.

Taxpayers’ portion of library funding has grown unexpectedly before. The San Diego Unified School District agreed to pay $20 million to build a charter high school on the library’s sixth and seventh floors, relieving private donors of their previous commitment.

The funding breakdown for the library: $20 million from the district, $20 million from a state grant, $80 million from the city’s downtown redevelopment agency and the remainder — about $63 million — from private donations.

Library construction is happening in two parts. Donors now need to raise $30.2 million by next January for the second part to begin. If the library isn’t finished, the city would owe the state its $20 million back.

The fundraising pace has alarmed the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which opposed the project in part because it didn’t protect the public from funding shortfalls. Chris Cate, a senior director with the association, said the City Council should request monthly fundraising updates from the foundation and prepare a contingency plan should private money not materialize.

“After years of promises, fundraising is not keeping up,” Cate said.

Katz said the foundation plans to release fundraising updates quarterly, but would be amenable to a more frequent schedule should the council ask for one.

Sanders’ office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Before the schoobrary was approved, fundraising experts were split on if the project could raise the money in time.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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