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

Austin City Council could rename Robert E. Lee Road, Jeff Davis Avenue
Austin City Council could rename Robert E. Lee Road, Jeff Davis Avenue

Azie Taylor Morton helped to desegregate Barton Springs and remains the first and only African-American to serve as U.S. treasurer. A freed slave, William H. Holland fought for the Union in the Civil War and later served as a Travis County commissioner. Both could become the newest names to adorn Austin street signs if the Austin City Council votes...
PolitiFact: Why Chick-fil-A shutdown on Facebook wasn’t fully cooked
PolitiFact: Why Chick-fil-A shutdown on Facebook wasn’t fully cooked

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, fresh from questioning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at a hearing, asserted that Facebook inappropriately killed an appreciation day for Chick-fil-A, the fast-food restaurant. Was he correct? Cruz’s April 11 commentary on the Fox News website centered on what the Texas Republican described as Facebook’s suppression...
Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer
Sessions declines to recuse himself from probe into Trump lawyer

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided against recusing himself from the investigation into President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, but will consider stepping back from specific questions tied to the probe, according to a person familiar with the matter.  By contrast, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian...
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company
Amazon’s critics get new life with Trump’s attacks on the company

One of Amazon’s antagonists seized the moment last month with an unusual newspaper advertisement addressed to President Donald Trump. The ad, from a nonprofit that advocates less government, attacked a Defense Department technology contract that Amazon intends to bid on, calling it a lucrative handout for the company.  A top think tank critic...
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe
Democrats fear Grassley special counsel bill amendment will let GOP tip off Trump about Mueller probe

Democrats are warning that the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman's proposed changes to a bill to protect special counsels from undue firing would give the GOP the ability to tip off President Donald Trump about developments in Robert Mueller's probe of him — the latest flash point on the legislation's rocky road to a committee vote, expected...
More Stories