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Plans for new central library building to begin with programming elements

Monday, October 25, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Discussion of the new central library will begin in earnest next month as Council and the Library Commission take a first look at the programming elements being proposed for the $110 million downtown building.


John Gillum, the library system’s facilities planning manager, was tight-lipped with the specifics at this week’s Library Commission meeting. That’s because the library system intends to present plans to Council first, on Nov. 18, before providing an update with the architect to the Library Commission on Nov. 22. Council is scheduled to approve the library’s programming on Dec. 9.


Gillum, who is finalizing the details of the programming documentation for the new library, said he also was preparing a question-and-answer document for commissioners, one that should be available by Nov. 1.


“I’m in an odd situation because I’m supposed to present this to Council first, but I know people are going to be asking you questions,” Gillum said. “That’s why you’ll be getting a Q&A document without telling you all about the specifics of the programming. That’s because we need to tell the Council first.”


Programming is not schematics or design drawings, Gillum said. Instead, the two inches of programming documentation will describe, in infinite detail, exactly how space will be apportioned in the new library building. That will create some buzz but not as much excitement as seeing actual drawings of the building, Gillum said.


That didn’t stop commissioners from asking some general questions about the building. Commissioner David Kobierowski, for instance, wanted to know how well the desire for public space had been addressed. Local groups often have trouble finding space downtown for community meetings.


One advantage of a building the size of the central library, Kobierowski said, would be to provide something like a 300-seat auditorium that could be divided up into six individual rooms of about 50 seats apiece. Gillum said he couldn’t be too specific given the impending presentation but did offer some clues.


“The way that we solve our building program is always a balancing act between our program needs versus our budget,” Gillum said. “I believe our mantra for our building program has been versatility. We will provide meeting spaces for multiple uses. I think you’ll be pleased, and I think the community will be pleased as well, with the number of formats and uses in the building.”


Commissioner Wendy Price Todd, who writes articles about architecture, was hopeful the plans being presented would be user-friendly. She asked for some type of visual presentation of the relationship and amount of space, color-coded, so that she could get some sense of the proportion of uses.


“I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I just want to see, in general, the square footage that is dedicated to which functions of the building program,” Todd said. “That way, I can see what they’re getting.”


Gillum assured Todd she would be comfortable with the presentation materials. Asked whether he was satisfied he would deliver on community expectations, given the limited budget of the project, Gillum said he was.


“We’re exhausted but happy,” Gillum said.


If Council blesses the programming plan, architect Lake-Flato should begin design schematics in January. That should be about 30 percent complete by early summer, followed by 60 percent complete in late fall. At that time, the plan will make its way back to the Council and Library Commission, Gillum said.


This will be the point where the plans are likely to generate the most interest, when the public can get a sense of exactly how the library will look, Gillum said. The Austin Public Library Foundation, which intends to launch a $10 and $15 million capital campaign for the library, will begin fundraising as the design schematics are complete, executive director Tim Staley said.


Design should be complete by summer 2012. At that time, construction documents will be done and a guaranteed maximum construction price will be set. Permits should be pulled, and the ground broken, by fall 2012.


If the city maintains that schedule, the new central library should be open in either spring or summer 2015. The earlier the library goes to construction, the more cost effective it is likely to be, given the current dip in project construction in the Austin market, Gillum said.

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