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Faulk Library renovation opens conversation on Downtown Community Court

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin History Center downtown is ready to expand into the first floor of the adjacent John H. Faulk Library, but the building needs some work.

City Council will consider a contract for design services Thursday to get the ball rolling on the expansion and renovation project, but some members of Council are concerned the decision could impact discussion about using a portion of the Faulk Library to house the Downtown Austin Community Court.

Council Member Greg Casar said he is comfortable with the upgrades to the Faulk Center, which has been closed to the public since September 2017, as well as the History Center expansion, but wanted to make sure that approving the contract would not equate to a “pocket veto” of moving the court into part of the building.

Last year, the court co-led a monthlong housing services program out of the Faulk Library, connecting more than 350 individuals with housing and employment services. As the Austin Monitor reported last year, the court has struggled to conduct its basic operations in its current downtown location and has not been able to expand its services to meet many of the needs of its clients.

According to a recent discussion at the Judicial Committee, the court is aiming to secure a new location in the near future. Roosevelt Weeks, Austin Public Library director, said having the court inside the building could complicate the library renovation project as it progresses over the next few years.

Casar insisted on keeping the conversation open for now, noting that the library does not have exclusive rights to the property. At the least, he said, he would like to be able to compare the costs of buying a new building with moving into the Faulk, which is already in a central downtown spot along the city’s central public transit spine.

Austin Public Libraries has plans to make minor changes to the Faulk’s first floor and use the space for History Center exhibits and meetings. Eventually, there are plans to renovate the other floors to make room for history archives. Based on those plans, Weeks said there is no room for the court and the History Center to coexist in the building.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said there’s not enough funding from the 2018 municipal bond to make full use of the space and complete those plans. He suggested that the project could benefit from economies of scale by welcoming the court into the first floor.

“Rather than assume the full building is going built out with an unidentified source of funds … we might be able to possibly leverage funds we were going to use on the (court) to finish more of the Faulk,” Flannigan said.

In the short term, John Daniels, facility planning manager with Austin Public Library, said the building needs this contract for upgrades to its plumbing, elevator and electrical systems. Without those, he said, any future plans will become less attainable.

Casar said he ultimately supports the need for the design services regardless of what will be decided for the new court location.

“If we have to choose between the (court) and display space then we should just have that conversation,” Casar said.

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