The board that oversees the East Baton Rouge Parish library system is considering shelving a proposed new $19 million downtown library that has been the subject of a heated public debate.
Library System Director David Farrar placed an item on the Library Board of Control’s agenda for its regular meeting Thursday to “remove the River Center Branch library construction project from the current construction schedule.”
Farrar said a controversy over how the architect selection process was handled prompted him to bring the project back to the Library Board for reconsideration.
“I put it on the agenda,” Farrar said. “I want to give the Library Board of Control another opportunity to look at the project again and decide whether they want to move forward with it because of the concerns that have arisen over the architect selection process.”
An architect passed over for the design of the branch library, Trey Trahan, protested the selection panel’s decision in May and called for an investigation into how the process was conducted.
Trahan has said misleading information damaging to him was circulated among selection board members before they heard oral presentations from the three short-listed finalists on May 19.
Trahan was passed over and the selection board recommended that the Metro Council hire the joint venture of Washer Hill Lipscomb Cabaniss Architecture of Baton Rouge and Schwartz/Silver Architects of Boston.
The Metro Council has been sharply divided over plans to tear down the existing 32-year-old River City Branch library and build a new 57,000-square-foot facility at the site — nearly twice the size of the current downtown building.
Although funded through a dedicated tax, the library system is still included in the city-parish budget, which is subject to Metro Council approval.
Mayor-President Kip Holden included $19 million for the proposed new downtown library when he presented the council with his proposed budget for 2011 in December.
Some council members made an unsuccessful effort to remove the project, falling a vote short of the super majority of eight votes required to change the mayor’s budget.
However, any contracts for architectural or construction work have to be brought back before the council for approval, which could reject them by a simple majority of seven votes.
Councilman Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois, a critic of the library project, said he thinks the Library Board is looking to shelve the project because “they see the writing on the wall.”
He said the library would need seven council votes to hire an architect and award contracts, and the votes are not there.
“I guess somebody must have bumped the bed and woke them up,” Bourgeois said. “They are just dealing with reality.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, a supporter of the project, said the decision to reconsider the library project took her by surprise.
“It looks like there may be some issues with the architectural bids that came back in,” Wicker said. “I still think it’s a good project, if we do it now or sometime in the future.”
Scott Dyer, an aide to Holden, said the mayor was not available Thursday evening to comment. The mayor had favored building the new downtown library branch.
Downtown Development District Director Davis Rhorer said he would be disappointed if the Library Board chose to shelve the project.
“North Boulevard Town Square is currently under construction and the library is a centerpiece of the project,” Rhorer said.
John Berry, a citizen-activist who has been a vocal critic of plans for the downtown library, said it is too expensive of a project. He said a less costly renovation should be pursued.
“The public was against it to start with, but they pushed it through anyway,” Berry said.
The Library Board of Control will take up the issue at a meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday at the BREC administration board room, 6201 Florida Boulevard.