Wednesday, November 30, 2016 by Chad Swiatecki

New library cost could climb to $126 million with Council’s OK

City Council will consider what is hoped to be the final spending increase for the long-in-the-works Austin Central Library on Thursday, with the total price tag for the project set to fall somewhere just under $126.6 million.

The agenda item asks Council to authorize spending $5.5 million that was included from three different sources in the city budget passed in September, with $4.5 million coming from the General Fund, $600,000 from Austin Energy’s capital budget and $400,000 from the capital budget of the Public Works Department.

Council approval is needed because the total contract cost limitation for the project had not included the new funding, which will cover a variety of final building features and general labor costs.

The background information on the project online mentions the solar energy array slated to go on the library’s roof as one of the final expenses, but that expenditure – along with others such as flooring, roofing materials, building safety systems and disabled access features – have long been in the plans for library, said John Gillum, the facilities process manager for Austin’s library department.

In electronic communication with Council Member Ora Houston on a question regarding the increase in spending, public works officials said: “The addition of a photovoltaic system on the library roof and various building and life safety code requirements, have required redesign and additional construction, which are the main contributors to the change in schedule.”

Even when voters approved $90 million in bonds in 2006 for a new central library, city officials said the final number for the 200,000-square-foot facility would be around $120 million. That figure pays for a library that will be twice the size of Faulk Central Library, with a rooftop garden, 300-seat outdoor amphitheater, art gallery, restaurant, cooking demonstration area and a dozen meeting rooms, all wired with the latest technology.

The initial expected opening date of the new library was this summer, but two flooding delays in 2015 and the discovery of heavy industrial debris on the brownfield site caused more delays and cost overruns, Gillum said.

He added that some of the costs on final purchases are still being negotiated with vendors, including the solar panel array. Gillum said that he expects all expenditures to be finalized within the next few weeks so that construction crews can proceed with installation and meet the new completion deadline in early 2017.

Once the building is finished, it will take until spring for the library system to move all of its books and media materials and get the new building ready for its public debut.

“The structure suffered it well, but the whole area flooded, and then with it being an old brownfield site for power generation and water treatment we ran into concrete blocks as big as rooms and water pipes down to the lake that had to be capped,” Gillum said. “We’re hoping to not hit that (spending) cap again, so we don’t want to underestimate how much it might cost to finish because we don’t want to trot down to Council again and again for more money.”

Austin Energy representatives said the complexity of adding solar energy to the library structure and incorporating that into the city’s energy delivery network makes it more intense than bringing traditional developments online, which merely consume energy rather than produce their own.

“Austin Energy has successfully integrated solar systems into the downtown network,” Austin Energy public information officer Robert Cullick said in a prepared statement. “It can be done safely and without undermining the reliability of a critical part of Austin’s infrastructure that supports the Central Business District. We’ve been in communications with other City departments for more than a year to provide the needed expertise on this matter and remain ready to help.”

Photo courtesy of Austin Public library through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Public Library: This is Austin's public library system, run by the city.

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