Austin’s Central Library opening date pushed back again

Austin Public Library under construction (KXAN Photo)
Austin Public Library under construction (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After more than a decade of planning, construction on Austin’s new $125 million Central Library is finally winding down.

The library was supposed to open November 2016, but got pushed back to spring 2017. During Wednesday’s budget presentation, library officials dropped another bomb on City Council — it won’t be ready by then.

“It’s like groundhog day,” said Council Member Ora Houston during the presentation. “When is it going to be completed? I’m serious about that one,” she said.

Toni Lambert  with the Austin Public Library said, “I do think it is getting very close, but I don’t have a specific date that I can give you quite yet.”

“That’s unfortunate because I’ve only been on the Council two years and some months and that’s the response I get every time is, ‘it’s soon,'” Houston responded.

So what’s left to be done? John Gillum, the library’s facilities manager, says the 200,000 square foot, six-story building has a longer check list when it comes to safety.

“The Fire Department has to check the smoke evacuation system, stair pressurization tests, fan wall volume, things like that. It all has to work like a Swiss watch,” Gillum says.

The library’s completion date is now set for the end of April, but that’s just the finished construction date. Officials say they then need another five to six months to get all the books and computers moved into place and everything organized.

The library is now looking at opening in the fall of this year. “It’s unfortunate, but we can’t really cut corners on that or we will have to close the library a week after we open to fix things,” Gillum says.

Council members worry this project has set the precedent for future bonds.

“We cannot repeat this, and to the extent that we have lost trust from the community to build the next project,” said Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

The Central Library Project started as a $90 million bond in 2006. Seven years later, city council approved $30 million more. In 2016, another $5 million was approved to finish the project.

Officials say project estimates always showed the finished library would cost $125 million. The taxpayer money had already been allocated to this project, therefore the library said they did not ask for anymore outside money.

The library will cost roughly $11 million to maintain year-round. Officials say not all of that money will come from taxpayers. They will charge for underground parking, a cafe that will help pay the buildings rent, an event center people will pay to use, and about a dozen weddings are already scheduled for the rooftop garden.

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