Repairing and completing the downtown River Center Branch Library will take at least eight more months and cost nearly $2 million, according to a 350-page report that contractors Buquet & LeBlanc released Thursday — the company's first public update since construction halted in April.
The report meticulously details each cost associated with the repairs and construction after crucial supports that hold up the library’s upper floors failed, prompting fears the downtown building could collapse. The repair costs have reached 10 percent of the original library cost estimate of $19 million. They include more than $500,000 to remove past work to make way for the repairs; more than $250,000 for welding and steel repairs; and more than $200,000 for the hydraulic jacks temporarily boosting the library’s upper floors.
Even if work on the library were to resume by Sept. 17, it would take until mid-January to complete the repairs alone, and then until mid-May to complete construction on the building, the contractor estimates. Immediately after the structural supports failed in April, architects originally estimated the repairs could be completed within a few days.
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Library Director Spencer Watts said Thursday he is thankful the report answered the many questions about the extent of the damage.
“We all wish that everything could proceed at a more speedy pace, but we certainly don’t want it to be done in any way that would compromise the assessment of the situation,” Watts said. “We wanted to make sure they came up with a really good solution, and it looks like they have.”
It’s now up to Buquet & LeBlanc, the architects and designers from WHLC and the other entities that worked on the project to determine which will write the check associated with the delays and repairs. It could well surpass $2 million, once the city-parish factors in other costs that include a likely extension to the library’s lease for the temporary River Center Branch Library on Third Street.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s administration and parish attorney officials have insisted the city-parish will not bear the costs of the construction gone wrong. Broome’s spokeswoman, Rachel Haney, said Thursday the $2 million new scope for construction will not go before the East Baton Rouge Metro Council because the city-parish is not paying for it.
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City Hall has not publicly revealed who they believe is responsible for the library’s construction woes. In late April, the city-parish hired a third-party consulting firm, Exponent, to help determine the necessary repairs for the library and to help pinpoint where the problems began. But the city-parish rejected a recent Advocate public records request for the reports from Exponent, saying they are exempt from public disclosure laws because the reports are a “work product in anticipation of litigation.”
The extensive Buquet & LeBlanc report was originally expected late last week, after Broome’s administration said they and the architects had agreed on the necessary fixes for the building. But the timeline and cost estimate came nearly a week after the public was told they could expect them.
The report sheds new light on the extent of the building’s structural problems and shows that inspectors who visited the site in April immediately could tell something with the library was seriously amiss.
Marrero-based Inspection Specialists Inc. recorded on April 19 that a weld they inspected was undersized, resulting in “intermittent lack of fusion.”
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“Conclusion: the weld does not meet the visual inspection acceptance criteria,” reads the report from Inspection Specialists.
The report continues that “the areas of fracture appeared to have various markings of rust from dark to light coloration. This being indicative of a progression of cracking over a prolong(ed) period of time.”
Buquet & LeBlanc described its nearly $2 million repair and completion cost as necessary for structural repairs that include steel, air conditioning, electrical, sprinkler, plumbing, painting, fireproofing, drywall, scaffolding and more.
But the amount of work necessary to restore the library could grow. Buquet & LeBlanc said they will not know the extent of necessary roof repairs until they perform other work. And another unknown is the extensive glass meant to surround much of the building, which is part of its modern look.
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“We are concerned that damage may already have occurred and/or that additional damage may occur when the building is jacked into its pre-failure position,” the Buquet & LeBlanc report reads. “As part of this change order we are paying the glass system manufacturer to inspect the entire glass system for any damage.”
Despite the time delays, Watts said the library system is focused on maintaining a presence downtown until the new building is ready for them. The library system’s lease for its temporary River Center branch at the Kress building expires early next year, but Watts said the lease includes a provision to extend it for six months, which he hopes would keep the River Center Branch Library in its current location until construction is complete.