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Emails reveal frustration among library board over construction snafu

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UPDATE: The engineer tasked with inspecting the new library says the eastbound lane of North Boulevard will no longer need to be closed due to library repairs.

The mayor's office says it plans to fully reopen the roadway tonight at 9 p.m. The Town Lawn will be reopened immediately.

Check back for updates.


BATON ROUGE – Designers and contractors of the troubled downtown library project have been summoned to a future Library Board of Control meeting, WBRZ learned Wednesday.

Board member Donald Luther has asked “architects, engineers, contractors and others” to “come and address us (the Library Board of Control) in person.” Luther's request was made in an email on April 20, two days after structural failures were reported at the $14.5 million project site where the new River Center Branch Library is going up in downtown Baton Rouge.

Luther's email was revealed in another batch of public records released to the WBRZ Investigative Unit Wednesday as part of a series of requests by the news department over the last week. The records request was made after repeated attempts to get information from designers, contractors and city officials for specific information about  the incident that shutdown the area around the project site on April 18.

Luther's email was sent to library director Spencer Watts in a thread with other members of the board that directs library business. Luther was upset over the lack of information being made available to officials who oversee library business.

He exclaimed: “I am getting information from the media before I get it from the Library!”

“I would like [the contractors, designers – project officials] to keep us fully informed,” he wrote, and demanded they appear before the library board.

Information about the project and the incident has been funneled through Mayor Sharon Weston Broome's office because, Watts said, 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 is the city-parish government.

Watts agreed, though, information could have been shared more effectively.

“We are sometimes surprised by what is released and when they choose to release something,” he said, adding he would ask if it could be coordinated better.

“… [We will ask] if they can give us a heads up from the city so we know what they are saying with at least some advance notice.”

Broome's office provided more updates as the days went on and announced late last week that shoring work to secure the building was being performed and light construction will resume.

The batch of emails began with an update to the board on the situation from Watts and included Watts questioning an editorial decision by WBRZ to highlight $250,000 in change orders at the construction site – including sinks and foundation work.

“WBRZ's report talking about change orders seems to be off target,” he concluded in his email.

The report highlighted the regularity of such construction overruns and included a comment from city officials.

"You can always have an unforeseen condition, nine times out of 10," said the city's chief architect, Jim Frey, in the report.

Watts was frustrated over the story appearing among news of the library's structural problems, telling board members it wasn't a “valid approach.”

WBRZ.com was first to report last week, a significant failure was blamed on structural design. An initial analysis by contractors blamed designers for a “simultaneous rupture” of key supports of a cantilevered section of the building. Click HERE to read the first story and see renderings of the issues.

Experts are still analyzing if there are more issues with the structural design work.

It is not immediately clear if Luther's request for project officials to meet with the library board will be fulfilled.

Private businesses associated with construction – including architects WHLC Architecture and construction firm Buquet & Leblanc – have repeatedly ignored phone calls and emails from WBRZ.

The East Baton Rouge Library Board of Control is made up of eight members – one appointed by the mayor and seven citizens appointed by the Metro Council. The group has “all authority for operation of the library,” according to board bylaws.

The board meets monthly and has yet to meet for the month of May.


Follow the publisher of this post on Twitter: @treyschmaltz


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