Designing a new Central Library: What will $28 million buy?

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With a library location now finalized and $28 million to work with, county leaders will soon face another big decision: choosing a firm to design a renovated Central Library.

The county tentatively plans to distribute the request for qualifications by the end of October with proposals to be submitted in November. A selection committee could make a design firm recommendation by the end of January.

The county has about $28 million in bonds for the overall project and will likely issue the debt in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to County Manager Dudley Watts.

Voters approved $40 million in library bonds in 2010, but the commissioners have committed $6 million apiece to library projects in Kernersville and Clemmons.

Less than $1 million has been used on other small library projects across the system, but with the bond premiums that will be brought in, Watts said it is safe to assume a flat $28 million will be available for the Central Library.

If designers say there is no way to get a state-of-the-art, 110,000-square-foot library for $28 million, staffers will have to bring the item back to the commissioners to determine whether to reduce the footprint or simplify the design.

Another option would be to increase the amount spent on the Central Library by drawing from the other library projects or using other funding sources, but this does not seem likely based on previous county commissioner discussions.

The four commissioners who voted in favor of renovating the Central Library — estimated to be the least expensive among several options — stressed the funding limitations.

During a discussion about cost, Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt said she thought the county could get the project done for $28 million. She pointed out that the county had already committed the other bond money to Kernersville and Clemmons.

“We made a promise to those folks, and that’s what we need to do,” she said.

In a relative cost comparison study, school construction specialist Bill Powell estimated it would cost about $30 million to renovate or adapt the current Central Library facility.

Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said these were just preliminary estimates used as a tool to rank sites from least to most expensive. He said the county will get the project done with the available funds.

The rough estimate included demolition and abatement work inside the building, brick and mortar construction, design work, furniture, technology, safety equipment, and moving costs.

The library is actually like two structures — the original 1952 structure and a 1980 addition. The building sits on about 1.54 acres and has nearly 100,000 square feet. The county is shooting for 110,000 square feet.

After studying the usability of each of the proposed sites, city-county planner Marco Andrade said one option was to gut and enlarge the 1980 structure, preserving the older section along with the rest of the building’s existing columns, floors and metal structure.

“We feel that if we pick a good architect, then the sky’s the limit. We know that we have to stay within that budget, but we feel we can do a lot with it,” said Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin, executive director of the Forsyth County Public Library.

Library staff members know some of the things they want — a strong architectural statement for the exterior, reliable wireless throughout the building and flexible space.

“We want a really wonderful building that will say, ‘Come in,’” Sprinkle-Hamlin said.

By Meghann Evans/Winston-Salem Journal