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Construction of new central library to start in June

Construction is slated to start next month on Austin’s new central library, a limestone and glass building that will anchor a rapidly transforming corner of downtown.

The Austin City Council on Thursday approved $91.6 million to build the new library at West Cesar Chavez Street and West Avenue, $18.6 million to extend West Second Street and build a vehicle, bike and pedestrian bridge over Shoal Creek, and $1.7 million for a public art wall that will surround an electric substation nearby.

A ground-breaking ceremony is set for May 30, and the company Hensel Phelps will start construction in June, said John Gillum, the library department official overseeing the project.

The 200,000-square-foot library is expected to open in 2016, and will include a sunlight-drenched atrium, several gathering spaces and a street-level cafe.

“It will be such a cool facility; it will be a destination,” Gillum said. “It will be that great third place between home and work where everyone will want to go.”

The library will replace the 34-year-old John Henry Faulk Central Library, which will become archival and display space for the nearby Austin History Center.

The library is expected to cost $120 million, including money to design, engineer and build it, as well as outfit it with furniture, computers and new books and library materials.

Most of the money, $90 million, will come from a 2006, voter-approved bond package. The rest will come from the city budget and proceeds from the sale of another city-owned lot downtown, among other sources, Gillum said.

The library will be located in downtown’s southwest corner, which includes the shuttered Seaholm power plant and land where a now-dismantled water plant once stood, both of which private developers will soon start turning into apartments, shops, eateries and offices.

The six-story library will be nearly double the size of Faulk, which is 110,000 square feet, and will have room for 530,000 books and materials, compared with 430,000 volumes at Faulk, Gillum said.

Reflecting library trends, the building will accommodate not just reading but a variety of activities, Gillum said.

Its quiet and active spaces will include “reading porches” that overlook Shoal Creek and Lady Bird Lake, a 350-seat event space, book sections dedicated to children and teenagers, a dozen meeting rooms, and a rooftop garden and reading area.

It also will feature plenty of computers and technology, an outdoor amphitheater, rainwater harvesting and solar panels, and a 200-space underground parking garage, Gillum said.

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