With the costs of the prolonged construction of the downtown River Center Branch Library continuing to rise, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is considering almost quadrupling how much it could pay law firm Walters, Papillion, Thomas, Cullens to represent the city-parish in its legal fight against the architects and contractors.

In a separate but related item, the Metro Council on Wednesday could possibly set a public hearing on a request to extend the city-parish's lease agreement with owners of the Kress building downtown where the River Center Branch has been temporarily located since construction of the new branch started. 

The proposed amendment to the current lease would switch the city-parish to a month-to-month agreement with the building's owners once the lease expires at the price of $16,898 per month until the library moves into its new building next to City Hall once construction is complete. 

These additional costs are on top of the $2.7 million the parish's library system fronted to restart the project after construction halted a year ago when part of the structure failed due to alleged poor design.

"These costs are being tabulated and kept account of by our legal team," Library Director Spencer Watts said Monday. "They'll be trying to recoup all these extra costs through litigation."

Construction on the new branch, originally pegged around $19 million, stopped last year after welding failed on the beams that support the cantilever, a building feature that hangs over the sidewalk on the north side of the building. 

The city-parish in November sued WHLC Architecture and Schwartz/Silver, the architectural contractors who are also the project managers, and construction firm Buquet & Leblanc, placing fault on all three entities for the failure. Since then, the case has languished in the court system as the entities involved in the suit bounce blame back and forth. 

City-parish officials said previously the case could stretch on as long as five years. 

The city-parish initially entered into a professional services contract with Walters, Papillion, Thomas, Cullens that was capped at $17,500 for legal services. 

Watts said Monday the cap needs to be raised to $67,500 because the case is becoming more complex and time consuming.   

And he expects legal costs will likely continue to rise. 

"It will depend on how long the litigation continues," he said.

As for the lease, Watts said the Library Control Board's current agreement with Kress Levy Project is set to expire July 15. 

Since construction began on the new branch, the downtown library temporarily set up shop at the Kress building, in the 400 block of Third Street downtown, where some of the branch's high-interest collections, computers and work/study spaces were squeezed into the 9,000-square-foot space.

In an April 17 letter to the Metro Council, Watts says the temporary branch had more than 58,000 visitors last year. 

The owners of the Kress building have offered the library board a one and a-half month lease extension with the option of up to 11 additional one-month extensions as needed, Watts letter states. 

Construction on the River Center branch is expected to be done sometime this fall. Watts said the library board appropriated enough money in its budget to cover the lease costs at least until the end of this year. 

"This will help us keep our connection with the people who use the River Center branch," he said. The temporary branch "is getting some use. It's providing the basic needs of the people in that area."  


Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.