East Baton Rouge Library Board Chairwoman Kizzy Payton said Friday she remains in favor of building a new library downtown to replace the existing one.
But, she said, a controversy over the process used to select an architect for the project makes it advisable for the Library Board to take another look at the project and evaluate its status.
“We cannot ignore the fact that there are significant questions looming regarding the selection of the architect for this project,” Payton wrote in an email response to questions from The Advocate.
Architect Trey Trahan has alleged the process was tainted because, he said, some members on a selection committee of architects, engineers and city-parish officials were presented with misleading information damaging to his reputation.
The allegation involved a computer disk circulated to some selection committee members insinuating Trahan, who was not awarded the contract, had copied his design from a winning contest entry by an architectural firm in the Netherlands.
Parish Attorney Mary Roper said Friday her office looked into the allegations but found no wrongdoing by the selection board.
“Two members did see the image, but we don’t think it had any bearing on the outcome,” Roper said.
After oral presentations by three firms May 19, the selection board recommended the joint venture of Washer Hill Lipscomb Cabaniss Architecture, of Baton Rouge, and Schwartz/Silver Architects, of Boston, be awarded the contract.
R. Gray Sexton, an attorney representing Trahan, has said the selection process was corrupted by the distribution of “misleading information” on a computer disk that “was clearly created and circulated with the intention of influencing” the selection committee’s vote.
Library System Director David Farrar said the controversy over the architect selection process was what prompted him to place an item on the Library Board’s agenda “to remove the River City branch library construction project from the current construction schedule.”
Payton, the Library Board’s chairwoman, said it is “challenging for the board to proceed until all of the facts are known and the issues surrounding the selection process are worked out.”
She said the board will evaluate the project’s status and then decide on its next step.
“I believe the phrase ‘shelving the project’ may be too strong to use at this time,” Payton said.
Mayor-President Kip Holden, who has been a strong supporter of building a new downtown library, has not commented on the move to possibly remove the project from the library system’s construction schedule.
An aide to Holden, Scott Dyer, said, “There’s no reason for the mayor to comment on this, since he has no involvement with the Library Board of Control.”
Dyer noted that Library Board members are appointed by the Metro Council, which ultimately has to approve any contracts involving the downtown library.
The mayor’s budget for 2011 included $19 million in dedicated library tax funds for the project, as the library board requested.
Total costs for the project have been estimated at $21.4 million, including an underground parking lot with 46 spaces.
Plans call for tearing down the existing 32-year-old River City Branch library and building a new 57,000-square-foot facility at the site — nearly twice the size of the downtown building.
Downtown Development District Director Davis Rhorer said the new library is the centerpiece of the North Boulevard Town Square project now under construction.