Li­brary plaza sealed off from pub­lic

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Larry Barszewski

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

mid-2020.

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.

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