Library plaza sealed off from public
Broward’s Main Library plaza in downtown Fort Lauderdale has been off limits to the public since December, when the county succeeded in disbanding the homeless encampment that had become a tent city there.
Now, construction fencing surrounds the plaza, even though there’s been no construction activity.
What’s going on?
Plenty of repairs and renovations are planned for the 35-year-old library and plaza. The county has budgeted $5.9 million so far for the work, including exterior improvements and a new design for the flow of the library indoors to outdoors. Some of the work is still in the idea stage.
Didn’t the county already repair the library?
It took nine years to complete repairs and renovations following Hurricane Wilma in 2005, inconveniencing library patrons until the work was finished in 2014.
During the work, one of the construction companies went out of business, adding to delays. Workers installed hurricane-resistant windows and energy-efficient lighting, put down new carpeting and replaced wall and ceiling tiles and the library’s escalator. Library attendance, which had plummeted from 546,000 in 2008 to 291,000 in 2014, rebounded to 434,383 in 2018.
How long will the new work take?
Expect to see the construction fencing for at least the next three years, based on current projections. There could be delays, and some of the renovations haven’t been determined yet. A master plan for the overall site, including the adjacent city-owned Stranahan Park, probably won’t be completed until the end of the year.
The county is working with the city and private property owners surrounding the plaza to “develop a vision for this very prominent site” on the east side of Andrews Avenue between Broward Boulevard and Southeast Second Street, County Architect Ariadna Musarra said.
Does the new work have anything to do with homeless people being removed from the site?
The county worked with the city, community organizations and private businesses to find permanent housing for people who were living in the encampment. During the process, County Administrator Bertha Henry acknowledged the encampment was keeping the county from proceeding with longplanned construction work. The heavy machinery needed for the work will be placed in the plaza, she said.
Will the library remain open during construction?
Yes. The library is open Mondays through Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays.
Why hasn’t there been any work so far?
No company has submitted an acceptable offer to do the first project, estimated at $1.7 million. The work would waterproof the leaking exterior terraces and planters that fill the north side of the building facing the plaza, and replace the ceramic tiles on the terraces. The first round of bids was open for two months last year. The county rejected three proposals. The latest round has been open for almost a month, with no offers received so far, officials said.
Musarra blamed the lack of interest on a “rather busy construction market.”
The work did receive needed approval a year ago from Fort Lauderdale’s Historic Preservation Board. The library was designated a historic landmark by the city in 2014.
County officials hope to have construction underway this summer, if they secure a contractor. Once started, the waterproofing phase could take up to a year to complete.
What is some of the other work to be done?
The county has budgeted
$1.8 million to clean and restore the library’s exterior walls, made of Florida keystone, which is a form of coral rock. Officials hope to begin that work, expected to take about a year, by
Another $1.9 million will pay for repairs and restoration of the plaza. That work hasn’t been designed yet. Its construction can’t start until waterproofing is completed. Right now, it’s expected to take a year to do, probably beginning in mid-2021.
There are other projects that have not been fully planned out yet, including an auditorium modernization, restroom upgrades and mechanical improvements.
Why is a 35-year-old building historic?
It’s not the age of the library, but its design and who designed it that’s responsible for its status.
The building is in the Brutalist style of architecture, designed by Robert Gatje. He worked for the firm of Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer, one of the top architectural firms of the time.
The library has three sides of coral rock, while the terraced north side forms a “glass curtain” that blurs where the inside ends and the outside begins. Gatje compared the building to a cracked-open geode and declared it his proudest achievement.
The county’s historic preservation coordinator at the time of the library’s designation said it is probably the most significant and iconic piece of architecture in the county.