Metro Council throws a curveball at downtown library project, airing issues debated back in 2011 _lowres

Rendering of the new River Center Branch Library downtown

Library officials are preparing to demolish the River Center Library and build a new facility in its place downtown.

The project has opened for bids, which are due April 7, Director Spencer Watts told the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control on Thursday.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approved the new library in 2010, though not without opposition by some who argued the system should spend the money on improving other sites.

Library authorities have budgeted $19 million for the project. Watts said Thursday that construction of the new 47,000-square-foot, four-story building likely will cost about $15.7 million. The rest of the budgeted money will cover demolition, engineering and other costs.

Construction is expected to take about two years. In the interim, the library will operate in the Kress building at 447 N. Third St.

Officials hoped to choose a contractor and begin construction last year, though the time line has been pushed back.

“It’s a complex building on a small lot,” Watts said, and engineers took longer than expected to design the heating and air system and the cantilever, which will support a large, protruding structure.

Officials have said the library system needed to replace the old brutalist-style building constructed in the 1970s, calling it “out of date and inefficient” and noting that when it was built, the most advanced technology on-site was an electric typewriter and a rotary phone. Plans for the new site include multiple computer banks, as well as conference and study rooms.

Renderings of the exterior show floor-to-ceiling windows, a terrace and a balcony extending over the walkway near the North Boulevard Town Square. Board Vice President Jason Jacob described it as “sleek and modern.”

One factor not addressed in the plans is parking for the site, which lies near the intersection of City Hall, Town Square, the Old State Capitol and the city courthouse. Assistant Library Director Mary Stein noted that patrons already use the current library with the existing downtown parking. The city is studying options for more downtown parking, she added.

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