A month ago, work on the new downtown Baton Rouge library was halted after beams central to the building’s design began to fail.
At their Thursday meeting — still with sparse information about what went wrong — library board members began questioning why the architect and contractor weren’t there to talk about the construction problems.
Construction came to a halt April 18 on the River Center Branch Library after workers worried about structural problems there. A series of letters, emails and other records that emerged after the problems showed that two of the support beams holding up the library’s third and fourth floor — which jut out from the rest of the building — had failed.
Workers shored up the building’s top floors with hydraulic lifts and have continued to assess how deep the construction problems go. Construction work has not resumed, and City Hall recently hired its own third-party engineering firm to check the site as well.
Though Library Director Spencer Watts gave an update to board members Thursday about the construction problems, board member Donald Luther asked why contractor Buquet and LeBlanc and architects from WHLC had not sent representatives to the meeting to answer questions.
“It’s frustrating, they put you in a very uncomfortable situation to stand up there and speak for them, be their whipping boy,” Luther told Watts.
Representatives from Buquet and LeBlanc and WHLC did not return messages late Thursday and have not publicly spoken in weeks about the taxpayer-funded $19 million project.
Watts said he could not speak on behalf of the contractor or the architects, but said they are also still trying to collect as much data as possible before making public statements about the project. Watts said it’s still too early to know the timeline for when the library’s problems will be corrected and who is to blame for them.
Luther read aloud an April 23 letter from Buquet and LeBlanc President Robin Liles, in which Liles told city-parish and WHLC officials that the structural design was to blame for the building’s problems. Liles wrote that Buquet and LeBlanc denied any responsibility for wrongdoing. Luther asked if Buquet and LeBlanc knows details about the project that board members do not know.
Watts said he has not been privy to those discussions.
“As you’ve been in the news and we’ve all been in the news, I showed up today,” Luther said. “I hope that they would have taken the time to say they don’t have the information. I’m very disappointed.”
Board members Candace Temple and Nicole Allmon-Learson also requested that representatives from Buquet and LeBlanc brief the board once they complete their report identifying the problems at the library. They asked Watts to request that the contractor and engineering firm send representatives to the meeting after the report is released.
“That could be helpful in some reassurance that they are truly willing to work with us as we go through these challenges,” Allmon-Learson said.