Mayor's office plans to fund library repairs to get project finished
UPDATE: The EBR Metro Council has voted in favor of the mayor's proposal to spend the $2.7 million needed to expedite the library's repairs.
BATON ROUGE – Ten months and a few days since the downtown library construction project became a boondoggle of blame and impasse, the mayor’s office said Wednesday it will foot the bill for the nearly $3 million in repairs - “temporarily.”
In a prepared statement, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said her office hopes to expedite the completion of the library which has been sitting without major work as engineers, designers and the city-parish argue over who is at fault for an April 2018 failure that caused the building to essentially crack.
The mayor said she was being transparent when she penned the statement, reporting the Metro Council will discuss an item she will add to the agenda to temporarily finance $2,746,243 needed to complete the project.
The financing line is about $1 million more than what designers and engineers estimated in a September 2018 update on the situation. Then, quoting repairs to be about $1.9 million. The most recent figure released by the mayor's office includes a hefty cost of renting hydraulic lifts that are holding the library structure in place.
The maneuver by the mayor’s office is abrupt and opposite of what city leaders vowed in the months after the snafu – that city funds would not be used on costs associated with the incident, which is now caught up in court.
But, the mayor argued in her statement, lawsuits will take too long.
“...This type of litigation could take between two and five years to complete. During this period of time, the library would remain vacant and unfinished. Not only would the building become an eyesore in the center of Downtown Baton Rouge, but it could become compromised to the point that significant additional repair work would be required,” the mayor said.
“...Expediting the completion of the building protects the substantial investment made by taxpayers,” the mayor continued.
Should the Metro Council approve the money, construction would begin again on the library.
WBRZ reported in January, little progress has been made at the construction site as contractors waited for legal developments. Officials have expressed concerns over parts of the unfinished structure deteriorating amid the stalemate since some of the interior is exposed to the elements. Though, enclosed areas of the building are sealed and the HVAC system is operating, library officials said in January.
Should the funding plan be approved and construction start, the city would return later to its lawsuit seeking to recoup the costs.
“The Parish Attorney’s Office would... aggressively pursue recovery of the funds through the litigation process,” the mayor said.
In a separate statement released following the mayor’s, the library said the library system will fund the $2.7 million needed from its emergency reserve account.
“There will be no substantive impact on any other major projects or a decrease in current Library services,” the library said.
Library executives said the emergency fund is usually about $2.5 million and it will also use money saved on expenses it never had since the library was not opened in 2018 as planned. Money saved from other projects will also be used, the library said.
So many levels of government are involved because the city-parish is the actual owner of the property. Since the library is a “special fund agency,” the ultimate legal responsibility of library properties falls to the city-parish government.
The library construction project has been contentious from the beginning. City leaders, library executives and taxpayers have argued against each other over the plan for the project – budgeted at about $19 million.
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