By Reggie Ellis
farmersville – Every city and rural town in Tulare County has a library except one of its earliest settlements. But that changed last week when the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted to staff a Tulare County Library Branch in Farmersville with a librarian for the first time in 22 years.
“The motion passes unanimously. Now you have a library Farmersville,” said Chairman Pete Vander Poel to a round of applause.
The agreement provides salary and benefits for a County librarian to staff the Farmersville library three days a week for three years. The librarian will be paid for by a $90,000 community block development grant from the California Department of Housing and Community Development awarded to the City of Farmersville in 2015. Farmersville City Manager John Jansons thanked Tulare County Librarian Darla Wegener for her help in bringing a library branch back to Farmersville.
“It was a long haul but the City looks forward to completing this next step and to enjoying a long and lasting relationship with the County Library system for years to come,” said Jansons.
The Farmersville Library will be located in the city-owned Farmersville Community Center located at 623 N. Avery Street at the corner of Ash Street in central Farmersville.
The Community Center currently houses the Boys and Girls Club of the Sequoias, and will in a few weeks also be the site of a new senior citizens program in Farmersville in partnership with CSET, also funded through the CDBG Program. Jansons said the opening of the 1,500 square foot library is the final piece of the “full activation” of the 12,000 square foot community center built in 2011.
“This now becomes a multigenerational building that is being maximized for use for all ages,” Jansons said. “Our hope is that those seniors might stay after lunch and do some reading or mentoring with the kids at the library or Boys & Girls Club.”
The new Farmersville Library is anticipated to have a soft opening in April to get up and running followed by a Grand Opening celebration tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 22. On Feb. 28, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a lease with the City to occupy the space at the Farmersville Community Center, the final step to solidifying its status as a Tulare County Library Branch.
City Council Member and former Mayor Greg Gomez was in attendance during the Supervisors’ approval.
“We couldn’t be more excited that this project, which is near and dear to so many in our City, has come to fruition,” Gomez said. “It represents the work of many hands and many years of determination to provide better for our kids.”
Gomez continued by thanking Darla Wegener, the County Librarian and all those with the City and County who helped make this happen, but especially thanked, “all the residents and volunteers in Farmersville who wouldn’t give up in making this goal a reality.”
Farmersville’s original public library was set up in a residence in 1973. It was later moved into the former Farmersville City Hall at 147 E. Front Street where it was located until the County closed the branch in 1995. The library stayed open as an all-volunteer library led by Caroline Benavides up until 2008 when it was again forced to close. A group of residents led by then City Manager Rene Miller tried to open a volunteer library in the community center in 2012.
Two years later, a grass-roots coalition of non-profits called Lea Conmigo, which translates in English to Read With Me, began working with the Tulare County Library to bring a branch back to the city. The group surveyed elementary school children in town and were shocked to learn that 75% of 8 year olds at Farmersville Unified School District are below proficient in English Language Arts, well above the state average of 45%. Factors contributing to that include prenatal care, access to healthcare, lack of nutrition, early school readiness, poverty and linguistic isolation. About 34% of Farmersville adults have less than a 9th grade education, a third of families live below the poverty line with a median household income that is half the state average and Spanish is still the primary language spoken in seven out of 10 homes.
Since that time, the literacy advocacy group helped secure the $90,000 community development block grant, a $40,000 Read for Life grant from the Ann Reimer Foundation for library computers, furniture and books and is close to providing Internet access at the site, a requirement to check out books in the Tulare County Library database, thanks to a $10,000 budget amendment by the Farmersville City Council in 2015.
“We worked hard in Farmersville,” said County Librarian Wegener. “We shared the responsibility with the City and a local literacy group Lea Conmigo and met for over two years to plan for this new service.”
For more information about the new Farmersville Library, check in at www.cityoffarmersville-ca.gov or find them on Facebook for more information about the scheduled opening and hours of operation.