Comparing Austin’s new central library to other cities’

Construction on Austin's new Central Library in downtown Austin as of November 2015. (Courtesy: Photo by Michael Knox, City of Austin Economic Development Department)
Construction on Austin's new Central Library in downtown Austin as of November 2015. (Courtesy: Photo by Michael Knox, City of Austin Economic Development Department)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s going to take another $1.3 million to complete Austin’s massive new central library to continue paying architects for work. That will now extend six months past the original completion date, to November of this year.

Austin Public Library will ask City Council to approve the reallocation of funding this Thursday. Voters approved a $90 million budget to fund a new central library in a bond election 10 years ago. Four years later, the city approved an additional $30 million dollars to move the project forward.

Library Facilities manager John Gillum says in the years since, the city has worked to make bond elections more transparent and be up front with the project’s full price tag.

“We try to be smarter about that now and now allow that to happen and just go, you know, this is the dollar amount it’s going to take to finish it. If you can’t make it fit, it’s going to have to slide to another bond election,” said Gillum.

“I think the downtown library was sold to us on deceptive practices.And this is just more of the same,” said city councilman Don Zimmerman, District 6.

If council signs off on the funding, the library’s new opening date will be Spring of 2017.

We reached out to the Austin Public Works department to find out if the design consultant or construction firm could face any fines for not finishing the project on time. We were told there were no penalties, but the city may make a claim for its delay costs related to the design issues.

The contractor for the new library, Hensel Phelps, has also been involved in several city projects for the Aviation Department. Right now, they’re also working on the ABIA 9 Gate Expansion Project.

The additional $1.3 million would have been used to move supplies and materials into the new building. But of course with this high a price tag the building will have a lot of upgrades. We look into just how this state of the art library will stack up to other cities.

Austin’s new library will be 198,000 square feet for more than $120 million.

“One of the few remaining democratically open public spaces to meet, to create, to innovate,” said Gloria Meraz from the Texas Library Association says that’s a major step forward for a city in need of library space.

“We would love to see an even larger library because we know we have the capacity within the city, there’s a lot of demand,” said Meraz.

San Diego completed its new library in 2013. It cost $185 million with the help of state grants and donations. It is 367,000 square feet.

Seattle built its new library in 2004. It cost $166 million and is 360,000 square feet.

In 2001, Nashville built theirs for less than $100 million at 300,000 square feet.

For all of those libraries in Nashville, Seattle, and San Diego, the number of visitors to the library after the new one was built -doubled in each city.

Rising construction costs in downtown Austin will make our state-of-the-art library more expensive per square foot. Local taxpayers carry much of the burden. Many states offer grants for library construction projects. Texas is not one of them.

“It’s actually a particular problem within the state,” said Meraz.

She cites a study by UT-Austin and the Bureau of Business research that shows for every taxpayer dollar into libraries, $4 are returned to the local economy.

“[Employers] want an educated citizenry. They want a good pool of people and often they will look to the quality of the public library,” said Meraz.

The new library will eventually replace Faulk Central Library, which will then become an archive building. With so much money being spent on a new facility, we wanted to know how many people still use public libraries.

City numbers show a seven percent drop in people who visited the library this year, compared to last year for the Faulk. The number of books, movies and other materials checked out has also dropped seven percent year to date.

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