New Cen­tral Li­brary’s de­but de­layed again

City of­fi­cials have grown weary of es­ca­lat­ing costs and fluid time­lines that have whit­tled open­ing day es­ti­mates to ‘soon.’

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By El­iz­a­beth Fin­dell efind­ell@states­

The open­ing date for Austin’s new Cen­tral Li­brary has been pushed back again, to this fall at the ear­li­est, dis­may­ing City Coun­cil mem­bers who said they don’t know how to de­fend the project to con­stituents.

“It’s Ground­hog Day,” said Coun­cil Mem­ber Ora Hous­ton in a work­shop last week, re­fer­ring to the re­peat­edly vague guesses for com­ple­tion. “That’s the re­sponse I get ev­ery time: That it’s ‘soon.’ ”

The new build­ing has been un­der con­struc­tion for about four years at 710 W. Ce­sar Chavez St., and pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates put the tar­get open­ing day in May. At 200,000 square feet, it’s dou­ble the size of the li­brary it’s re­plac­ing at Eighth and Guadalupe streets and in­cludes fea­tures such as cook­ing demon­stra­tion space, a tech­nol­ogy “pet­ting zoo,” so­lar pan­els, a rain­wa­ter col­lec­tion sys­tem, an event cen­ter and a restau­rant.

Coun­cil Mem­ber Jimmy Flan­ni­gan ex­pressed con­cern at last Wed­nes­day’s work­shop about the cost in­creases of the project, from the $90 mil­lion ini­tially ap­proved by vot­ers to the fi­nal $125 mil­lion tab. He ac­cused staff mem­bers of not tak­ing his ques­tions se­ri­ously and asked them to pre­pare a post-mortem anal­y­sis of the project.

“We can­not re­peat this,” he said. “We have lost trust from the com­mu­nity to build the next project.”

Though the city asked for only

$90 mil­lion in bond fund­ing, a pre­vi­ous coun­cil ap­proved the project at an es­ti­mated $120 mil­lion in 2013. Staff mem­bers noted that was due to a change in scope, not cost over­runs. In De­cem­ber, the coun­cil has ap­proved $5 mil­lion in cost in­creases since then.

“There was re­vi­sion­ing, is how I would de­scribe it, of the li­brary, so we could be­come a li­brary of the fu­ture,” in­terim City Man­ager Elaine Hart told the coun­cil last week.

That “li­brary of the fu­ture” is also the rea­son cited for the many de­lays the build­ing has en­coun­tered. The li­brary was first set to open last Novem­ber, then this May. Now, the an­tic­i­pated open­ing is six months from when­ever the build­ing is sub­stan­tially com­pleted, and staff mem­bers aren’t an­tic­i­pat­ing sub­stan­tial com­ple­tion be­yond say­ing “soon.”

The six months is the amount of time it will take to move in fur­ni­ture and books and to train staff mem­bers in how to op­er­ate the build­ing sys­tems. So the ear­li­est the li­brary could open, if con­struc­tion is com­pleted within the next cou­ple of weeks, is Oc­to­ber.

“We want to open this cal­en­dar year very badly, of course,” said John Gil­lum, fa­cil­i­ties process man­ager for Austin li­braries.

He at­trib­uted the de­lays to is­sues with the build­ing’s au­to­mated fire safety sys­tems, which he called com­plex due to its six floors and large atrium. Gil­lum said every­thing has been ex­pected, but he called con­struc­tion time­lines in gen­eral “in­her­ently re­ac­tive, and there­fore fluid.”

The project may be de­layed, but peo­ple are al­ready mak­ing plans to rent out the li­brary’s rooftop pa­tio gar­den and var­i­ous meet­ing spa­ces for events rang­ing from wed­dings to cor­po­rate galas. Amanda Gastler, who came on­board as the li­brary’s event co­or­di­na­tor in Oc­to­ber, said she’s had 42 in­quiries about rentals, but isn’t for­mally con­tract­ing book­ings un­til the build­ing is com­plete.

“No one re­mem­bers the other li­brary projects that came in later than ex­pected or more ex­pen­sive than ex­pected,” Gil­lum said. “It may have been a bit of a con­cern at the time but, once it opens, peo­ple for­get and start us­ing their li­brary.”


Austin’s Cen­tral Li­brary (shown in Novem­ber) has been un­der con­struc­tion for about four years at 710 W. Ce­sar Chavez St. Its 200,000 square feet dou­bles the size of the li­brary it’s re­plac­ing and will in­clude cook­ing demon­stra­tion space, a tech­nol­ogy “pet­ting zoo” and a restau­rant.


John Gil­lum, fa­cil­i­ties process man­ager for the Austin Pub­lic Li­brary Fa­cil­i­ties Ser­vices, tours the screened-in porch out­door plaza of Austin’s new Cen­tral Li­brary in Novem­ber. He re­cently at­trib­uted con­struc­tion de­lays for the “li­brary of the fu­ture” to the build­ing’s au­to­mated fire safety sys­tems.

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