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Upgrade plans in the development for Sherman Library & Gardens

By AMY SENK

Like many home-improvement plans, the idea behind updating and refurbishing Sherman Library & Gardens started with a single, simple goal.

“I just wanted to put a new entrance on Coast Highway,” Scott LaFleur, executive director of Sherman Library & Gardens, told Corona del Mar Residents Association members on Thursday.

Moving the entrance to the front, instead of its current location from the back parking lot, between Dahlia and Fernleaf avenues, seemed straightforward enough back in 2017. But as garden and library officials and board members discussed it, they realized the 56-year-old center needed some fundamental upgrades as well as some improvements to keep up with growth. Electrical work so coffee pots wouldn’t blow fuses when you plugged them in, new pipes so toilets could handle toilet paper. “We’re 56 years old, not much has been done and we’re starting to feel it,” LaFleur said.

Problems went beyond the basics of plumbing and power. Education, he told the group, is a foundational priority.

“Yet we have no dedicated classroom or space for education,” he said. “Additional facilities will not only allow us to expand our on-campus programs, but will also allow us to expand capacity for outreach, taking curriculum and expertise to children and families who may not have the opportunity to come to us.”

Upgrade plans Scott LeFleur

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Photos by Amy Senk

Scott LaFleur, executive director of Sherman Library & Gardens, where an update and refurbishing is in the planning stages

In 2020, they hired their first-ever education director (LeFleur had to split his office in half to make room for hers) and then the first-ever garden educator. Last year, they held 186 horticulture, art or wellness classes for 3,256 participants; 29 lectures for 1,350 participants; training and outreach events for 1,501 participants; plus other events that drew 3,107 participants.

“We started our habitat explorer field trip program in January 2022 and we have had 21 schools visit with more than 600 students served,” he said. “The habitat explorer program is open to all schools, and we provide scholarships and bus subsidies for those schools that need assistance. We hope to expand this program to 69 visits and more than 3,000 kids next year.”

Last year, he said, the garden had 76,855 visitors and the library had 4,103.

He vowed the plans would keep the adobe, which founder Arnold D. Haskell purchased (along with the surrounding property) back in the 1950s, to use as an office. “It’s very much beloved, and it will absolutely stay.”

LaFleur said they’ve hired architects and are working on plans, which he hopes to be able to share next year. They’re taking their time on the front end, and he’s been reluctant to give too many details at this stage. He told me the same thing in 2019 when I asked about plans that I’d heard being discussed.

“The single directive is, ‘Don’t ruin this place,’” he said. “We just want to get it right.”

He also gave updates on the popular 608 Dahlia restaurant, run by Executive Chef Jessica Roy.

Upgrade plans LeFleur at podium

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LaFleur addressing the Corona del Mar Residents Association members

Late Night Thursdays, he said, will have lawn games and beer, wine and special drinks along with a limited light menu until 6 p.m. – reservations are suggested but not required. And on Sundays, lunch hours will be extended to 3 p.m. Picnicking in the gardens on Sundays after 4 p.m. is allowed.

The meeting also provided an update from City Councilmember Will O’Neill, about city finances, and from Lt. Brad Miller, Area 4 commander for the Newport Beach Police Department. Shoplifting and pickpockets are up, Lt. Miller said, and he advised not to leave a purse hanging over the back of a chair in a restaurant, or in a shopping cart if you walk away.

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Amy Senk has lived in Corona del Mar for 20+ years and was publisher of Corona del Mar Today, an online newspaper that ran daily for seven years. Senk, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is involved in the Corona del Mar Residents Association. She and her husband have two children attending college at the University of Missouri and Duke University. She is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.