Sonoma Valley's renovated library reopened ahead of schedule Tuesday and judging by the reviews the changes are a hit.
"It's wonderful. It's so exciting," said Sonoma resident Kathy Jewell.
The West Napa Road library closed July 16 for renovations that were expected to take a year.
The work included adding a new room dedicated for use by teens, a periodicals alcove, an enlarged book-drop area and remodeled public restrooms, as well as a new heating and air conditioning system and landscaping.
Stephan Buffy, the Sonoma branch manager, said Tuesday that a combination of factors, including a mild winter that was a boon for construction crews, allowed the library to reopen nearly four months ahead of schedule.
Buffy described it as a "soft opening," however, as work is still being completed. On Tuesday, workers were busy installing the library's new outdoor sign, while inside, signs warning of "wet paint" greeted visitors.
Those were minor considerations. Several patrons gushed over the renovations, saying the 30-year-old library now feels modern and bright.
"It's nice to see communities that continue to invest in libraries because they are a gathering place where everyone has access to resources and information," said Amy Allis, a part-time Sonoma resident.
Allis was seated at one of 10 tables that were custom-built for the library. Her laptop was plugged into an outlet that was in the center of the table.
Other modern touches include three computerized self-checkout stands.
Sonoma resident Michael Thomas said the new library feels more open and "airy," thanks to the addition of new skylights and lighting.
Thomas also liked the new periodical room, which is separated from the library's main room by a glass partition.
Buffy said the library used to be so dark that some people, particularly seniors, had difficulty reading books.
The Sonoma City Council last February approved $2.5 million in redevelopment funds for the library work. While the project was underway, the library temporarily moved about six blocks away to the Burlingame Hall at the First Congregational Church.
Jewell, a member of the church, said she will miss having the library around. She said the increased foot traffic benefited the church's thrift store, which helps fund Sonoma nonprofits.
"We loved having them. It was good energy," she said.
On Tuesday, every available parking space was taken outside the renovated library, a sign that people were anxious to resettle in the library's old, now new, digs.
The project represents one of the last in Sonoma to be approved under such conditions. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have since disbanded redevelopment agencies as a cost-savings measure.
Sonoma Councilman Tom Rouse, who popped into the library Tuesday to admire the work, said the project was an example of how redevelopment funds could be put to good use.
"It's easy to cut," he said. "But you don't want to cut services like this."