City officials ask for an update on the library debacle Wednesday
BATON ROUGE – While it doesn't share the same gravitas as the novels on its shelves, the story of the beleaguered downtown library project remains a mysterious conundrum.
Yet again Wednesday, city officials said they've asked the architect who designed the building for a status update on where things stand – or stand with concern. It's been weeks since an official report from the firm about why assumed structural failures showed up in mid-April.
After hysteria calmed, designers and engineers were providing weekly updates – released every Friday. The reports outlined what engineers were doing to immediately stabilize, investigate and formulate a plan after a “simultaneous rupture” of key supports of a cantilevered section of the building.
Contractor Buquet and Leblanc blamed the building design, not workmanship, for the failure. In emails obtained and first reported by the WBRZ Investigative Unit, builders were worried over “concerns regarding life safety” when, on April 18, trusses failed, causing a crack down part of the library.
The building was designed by Baton Rouge-based WHLC Architecture who has ignored repeated requests for information from WBRZ. Ironically, the library project is highlighted on the company's website. On Thursday, weeks since the debacle, WHLC was touting its design as the "library of the future.”
The city has not heard from WHLC lately and asked again for an update on what is happening.
After the truss failure was recognized, work halted and, for a few hours, businesses around the project site were evacuated. Business has returned to normal with light duty at the library and giant jacks holding up the cantilevered section of the building.
“Many of the people involved, whether is the architect or the engineers, are very concerned about where they stand in terms of liability, so that could be one of the reasons that they are reluctant,” Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said in her last public interview on the situation, back on May 18 with WBRZ.
In the days after the truss failure was noticed, WBRZ was able to obtain information through public records requests and other sources about what was happening – frustrating library board officials who, following reports, summoned those involved with building the library to a May meeting.
But, the group asked to attend did not show up.
"I had hoped they would have shown up even if only to tell us they don't have any information yet," said board member Donald Luther at the time.
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. Before the snafu in April, Buquet & Leblanc estimated it could build the library for about $14.5 million - $500,000 under what its next closest competitor bid. Construction started at the downtown branch a few years after a new $32 million main library facility opened about six miles away.
The contractor has warned of cost overruns associated with the structural failure.
While the fate of the project is written, it's become somewhat of a landmark in downtown Baton Rouge where it sits next to city hall. People have been overheard discussing the project as they stand and watch construction workers move about the area.
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