Austin’s new Central Library opening delayed — again — to late this year


Highlights

The project, under construction about four years, was first set to open last November, then this May.

Council members voiced frustration with the delays last week, saying they can’t defend them to constituents.

The opening date for Austin’s new Central Library has been pushed back again, to this fall at the earliest, dismaying City Council members who said they don’t know how to defend the project to constituents.

“It’s Groundhog Day,” said Council Member Ora Houston in a workshop last week, referring to the repeatedly vague guesses for completion. “That’s the response I get every time: That it’s ‘soon.’”

The new building has been under construction for about four years at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St., and previous estimates put the target opening day in May. At 200,000 square feet, it’s double the size of the library it’s replacing at Eighth and Guadalupe streets and includes features such as cooking demonstration space, a technology “petting zoo,” solar panels, a rainwater collection system, an event center and a restaurant.

RELATED: What to expect when the new Central Library opens

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan expressed concern at last Wednesday’s workshop about the cost increases of the project, from the $90 million initially approved by voters to the final $125 million tab. He accused staff members of not taking his questions seriously and asked them to prepare a post-mortem analysis of the project.

“We cannot repeat this,” he said. “We have lost trust from the community to build the next project.”

Though the city asked for only $90 million in bond funding, a previous council approved the project at an estimated $120 million in 2013. Staff members noted that was due to a change in scope, not cost overruns. The council approved $5 million in cost increases in December.

“There was revisioning, is how I would describe it, of the library, so we could become a library of the future,” interim City Manager Elaine Hart told the council last week.

That “library of the future” is also the reason cited for the many delays the building has encountered. The library was first set to open last November, then this May. Now, the anticipated opening is six months from whenever the building is substantially completed, and staff members aren’t anticipating substantial completion beyond saying “soon.”

The six months is the amount of time it will take to move in furniture and books and to train staff members in how to operate the building systems. So the earliest the library could open, if construction is completed within the next couple of weeks, is October.

“We want to open this calendar year very badly, of course,” said John Gillum, facilities process manager for Austin libraries.

He attributed the delays to issues with the building’s automated fire safety systems, which he called complex due to its six floors and large atrium. Gillum said everything has been expected, but he called construction timelines in general “inherently reactive, and therefore fluid.”

The project may be delayed, but people are already making plans to rent out the library’s rooftop patio garden and various meeting spaces for events ranging from weddings to corporate galas. Amanda Gastler, who came onboard as the library’s event coordinator in October, said she’s had 42 inquiries about rentals, but isn’t formally contracting bookings until the building is complete.

“No one remembers the other library projects that came in later than expected or more expensive than expected,” Gillum said. “It may have been a bit of a concern at the time but, once it opens, people forget and start using their library.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Frustration mounts as city says there’s no explanation for water spikes
Frustration mounts as city says there’s no explanation for water spikes

As soon as he saw his September water bill, O.T. Greer knew something was wrong. In the 44 years he’s lived at his house on Aspen Street in North Austin, he’d never seen a water spike like the one this fall when his bill jumped from $22 to $215 in a month. Greer and his neighbors pride themselves on water conservation. His yard is xeriscaped...
Johnson says Senate tax bill would hurt small businesses (like his own)
Johnson says Senate tax bill would hurt small businesses (like his own)

Here's what Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the first Republican to oppose the Senate tax bill, doesn't like about the measure: It would slash tax rates for conventional corporations and give a much smaller tax cut to firms like the four in which he has millions of dollars in investments.  Johnson's office says he does not support the Senate bill because...
The curious journey of Carter Page, the former Trump adviser who can’t stay out of the spotlight
The curious journey of Carter Page, the former Trump adviser who can’t stay out of the spotlight

Carter Page, PhD, is texting us in big paragraphs, from somewhere in New York, about his upended life.  "It's sort of like an extended plebe year ..." he writes.  (At Page's alma mater, the U.S. Naval Academy, first-year plebes endure a humbling boot-camp-style orientation.)  "... bringing the humiliation to a national...
Sen. Al Franken championed a Minnesota rape survivor’s bill. Now she wants a new sponsor.
Sen. Al Franken championed a Minnesota rape survivor’s bill. Now she wants a new sponsor.

It was on a November evening in 2014, after a tailgate party on her University of Minnesota campus, that Abby Honold was brutally raped by a fellow student. Despite going to the hospital in an ambulance with bruises and bite marks, despite reporting everything to police, it would take more than a year for Honold to find justice.  In August 2016...
Analysis shows tax bill would increase the cost of college by $71 billion over a decade
Analysis shows tax bill would increase the cost of college by $71 billion over a decade

The repeal or revision of higher education tax benefits in the House Republican bill would cost students and families more than $71 billion over the next decade, according to an official analysis by Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation.  In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, the committee provides specific individual scores of the education...
More Stories