Old Faulk Central Library in need of $11.8 million in repairs

Faulk Central Library before its closure (KXAN Photo)
Faulk Central Library before its closure (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Faulk building, which served as the city’s old central library, is in need of an estimated $11.8 million in repairs. Austin’s director of libraries calls the money needed “critical infrastructure updating.”

This, after a $125 million investment to build the new Central Library.

The Faulk library closed to the public back in September and the Austin History Center has expressed the need to expand into that building. It’s been out of additional space since 2003 and is host to the official city archives.

In a memo addressed to the Austin City Council, director of libraries Roosevelt Weeks says the updates include but are not limited to the following:

  • Replacing the three existing elevators: The parts for repair usually have to be manufactured because they are no longer available since the system is outdated.
  • Plumbing: Weeks says the entire system needs to be replaced in order to bring the building up to current code. On a practical level, there are multiple leaks throughout the building.  
  • Electrical: Aside from one recently replaced transformer, the memo explains the entire electrical system also needs to be replaced in order to bring it up to current code.
  • Mechanical: The air conditioning system, Weeks explains, will need to be retrofitted “so the museum-quality, interior climate control can be provided for the designated archival repository areas of the building.”
  • Fire Safety: Different floors would have to be brought up to the fire code and various standards set for archival and special collections facilities.

The recommended upgrades are currently not funded nor are they included in the proposed bond program.

The saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Talking with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, she says that’s part of the Austin History Center’s significance.

“Where we’ve been, why that’s significant, how decisions have been made and the way they have that’s sometimes relevant to current decisions,” Tovo told KXAN. “I’ve used it myself on multiple occasions to go and track down documents that are necessary to doing our work.”

But the Austin History Center is bursting at the seams.

“When I toured, there were archival records in the kitchen because they’re out of space,” Tovo said. “So they’ve been in a position of needing to ask people, can you hang onto your collection for a little while longer? You know, until we get more space.”

Of course, there’s a risk in asking people to come back at another time. Will they?

“At least one member did throw away some of those documents,” Tovo said of a group looking to donate some historical documents. “Once those paper records are gone, they’re gone.”

In the memo, Weeks writes, “We are working with several support and community groups to look for ways to make the building suitable for long term use.”

“To use that building efficiently, we’re going to have to invest in it. And we absolutely need that building,” Tovo said. “We may also be able to seek some grant funds for the preservation of our documents and for creating spaces that are safe for the preservation of, you know, what are priceless historical documents in many cases.”

Tovo says compared to other cities, Austin has not invested at the level it needs to, to keep the entire library system “strong.”  She says the city is seeing the cost of that now and wants staff to prioritize what projects need attention first.

“I’m hopeful that we can include some money in the bond package for those upgrades to the building, for some of that work to be done, and we’ll have to look at other funding mechanisms that are available,” she said.

Austin Public Library says it needs more funding to make improvements to the other 20 libraries in the city. In October, the group pitched a $20 million “wishlist” for the 2018 bond.

They say they need money to replace roofs, install new air conditioning and make other improvements at its branches.

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