A project that started decades ago as one woman’s dream — and then spent much of the past 10 years in a near-constant state of flux — was officially unveiled Friday morning at the Lompoc Public Library.

Library and other city officials joined members of the community to introduce the Charlotte’s Web Mobile Children’s Library, a bookmobile that will serve local children by traveling to neighborhoods and schools, among other areas.

The bookmobile is the end result of the wishes of the late Charlotte Benton, Lompoc’s first female mayor, who bequeathed much of her estate to the city of Lompoc and whose trust contributed significant funding for the $300,000 mobile library.

“This is a happy day for Charlotte, a happy day for our city, a happy day for our library, but a glorious day for our kids in this community,” Mayor Bob Lingl said during Friday’s unveiling ceremony in the library’s Grossman Gallery. “Thank you Charlotte for your dreams and your vision, and thank you for always remembering the kids in Lompoc and what it’s really all about.”

Although the bookmobile won’t immediately hit the streets, members of the community are invited to get a sneak peek at the newest branch in the Lompoc Public Library System during special open house hours from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, March 14, through Friday, March 18.

The bookmobile will be parked at the Lompoc Public Library during those hours and staff will answer questions about services and future stops.

The project has been a long time in the making, and has endured many roadblocks on its journey.

“This bookmobile has a long, ‘storied’ history — pun intended,” Lingl said Friday, drawing some laughter for his wordplay.

Benton’s actual wish was for a residence she owned at 211 South I St. to be converted into a new children’s library. In fact, the deed to the property stated that “the above-described real property is hereby granted to the City of Lompoc on condition that it shall be used exclusively and in perpetuity as part of a free public library for the children of the Lompoc Valley.”

The home was ultimately found to be unsuitable for the conversion and the city did not have the funding to change that.

In 2012, it was suggested by former library director Ashley Chavez that the city consider proceeding with a bookmobile rather than a brick-and-mortar library facility, according to Molly Gerald, also a former library director.

Lingl said Friday that he immediately felt that was a perfect solution.

“If you can’t bring the kids to Charlotte’s home library, why not bring Charlotte’s home library to the kids?” he said. “It made so much sense.”

The city went with that plan and funding was used from the Benton Trust, the Lompoc District Libraries Foundation, impact fees and a community development block grant to purchase the vehicle, which was built last year.

Staffing and maintenance costs for the bookmobile are expected to be covered “in perpetuity” by Benson’s estate, according to Barbara Holt, a co-trustee of the Charlotte Benton Trust.

“It’s not just something that’s here today and gone tomorrow,” Holt said. “It’s gonna be here 10, 15, 20 years from now.”

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Courtney Rogness, a youth librarian who will be one of the primary operators of the bookmobile, said she is excited to bring the new service to the community.

She said that plans are already in place for the bookmobile to travel to parking lots around town, beginning in April, and to visit the local farmers markets. Additionally, relationships have been established with the Lompoc Family YMCA and the local Boys and Girls Club so that the mobile library can attend after-school programs on Wednesdays and Thursdays each week.

“Though you think a bookmobile is run on diesel and batteries and solar energy, what a bookmobile, in my mind, is really run on is the passion that the librarian and the staff onboard can really put on that bookmobile,” Rogness said.

“If I have to run it on my passion, I will,” she added.

Former Lompoc Mayor Joyce Howerton said she enjoyed a long friendship with Benton and can remember Benton talking about the children’s library as far back as the late 1980s.

Benton, Howerton noted, grew up in Germany and lived there during Adolph Hitler’s reign of power in the 1930s and '40s.

“She would talk a lot about how during that time, the library was the one safe place you could go to where children felt safe,” Howerton said of Benton. “She wanted to do something like that in Lompoc. She wanted to create a place where children could go and just be safe.”

Although the library isn’t exactly as Benton had imagined, Howerton and others on Friday said they were sure the longtime Lompoc resident and philanthropist would be pleased with the outcome.

“Her dream for not just the community, but for the children of the community, is not only gonna be realized,” Howerton said, “but it’s gonna be expanded.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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