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Central Library manager says project on time, on budget for 2015

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

The manager who has overseen the vast growth of the Austin library system is confident the newest, and most ambitious, library to date will be on time and on budget, ready to open in 2015.


At a Council work session that included updates and requests from nine departments last week, two topics rose to the top during the library discussion: was the new central library still on budget and how was money being shifted out of the materials budget to pay for temporary staff at various branches?


John Gillum, the library department’s facilities manager, said talk of the Central Library has been on the table for decades, and it was only with the 2006 bond issue that voters were asked to pass $90 million in bonds to underwrite the structure, which will sit on the former site of the Green Water Treatment Plant.


“I’ve spent 34 years designing and building libraries, and there’s a lot of history when you start talking about a new central library,” Gillum said after the presentation. “There was talk as early as 1992, and all sorts of projects have been proposed, up to 300,000 and 400,000 square feet.”


The original plan under the bond package was to build a 250,000 square foot facility, of which a balance of 80,000 square feet would be unfinished space ready for an eventual expansion.


Original plans were to build a 250,000 square foot facility, with a balance of 80,000 square of unfinished space that could be used for expansion. At a Council vote at the end of 2010, the decision was made to build a 200,000 square foot facility, fully outfitted, to serve as the new main library.


“Is it a challenge? You bet,” Gillum said during the budget work session. “Are we going to bring it in within budget? Yes.”

City Manager Marc Ott emphasized the plans were being drafted within the current scope, schedule and budget constraints. That included drawing up a facility less ambitious than originally envisioned. Lake | Flato Architects, which designed the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, is leading the project design team.

“This project was challenged fiscally to begin with,” Ott said. “When you go back to the original budget, it was underfunded.”

Brenda Branch, who manages the city’s library system, said the new central facility would feature outside reading reading porches, rooftop garden, bicycle corral, state-of-the-art technology and additional meeting spaces. The full schematics for the 200,000 square feet will go to Council for approval in September.

“That would be twice as large as the one we have now,” Gillum said. “The real beauty of it will be that we have no parking now at the existing central library, and this will have 200 parking spaces on two levels of underground parking, along with 200 spaces for bike parking right on the hike-and-bike trail.”

The original plan was for the Friends of the Library to underwrite some of the expansion costs. Under the new plan, those funds will go to upgrading the finishes in the new building, Gillum said. Once Council approves the design plans in September, fund-raising will begin in earnest.

“I’ve been studying how other central libraries were built, and what usually happens is that people are waiting to see some really beautiful pictures of what they’re going to build. That’s what they’re looking to see.”

Fund-raising will likely result in actions such as naming rights on meeting space or more expensive finishes on the building exterior.

“We could have better furniture, better art, special collection items we’re going to need to build a good library,” Gillum said. “If the foundation is really successful in their fund-raising drive, this will turn it into a world-class facility.”

The existing John Henry Faulk library branch, constrained by the Capitol view corridors, will be used as expansion space for the Austin History Center, Branch said. The history center is sorely in need for expanded collection space.

In a brief budget presentation, Branch noted the library had not had reserve funds for temporary staff since the budget cuts in 2003. Statistics show that Austin spends $3 per resident for library materials, as opposed to $5 per resident in most peer cities.

Up to $300,000 has been transferred out of the materials fund on an annual basis to pay for temporary staff. The department has requested $500,000 to pay for 10 full-time employees positions in the department. That total will cover eight additional circulation clerks and two custodial staff members.

Council members had some discussion about recent feedback during meetings about the homeless flocking to the Faulk library. Branch said library staff, including herself, were diligent about making sure those in the library were using the facilities in order to review or borrow materials.

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