Three-and-a-half years after construction began, the long-awaited downtown library will open its doors to the public this Friday, June 26, at 9:30 a.m.
Library officials confirmed the planned opening date to Daily Report this afternoon, during a tour of the taxpayer-funded North Boulevard facility, which has cost some $22 million to date. (While the project was originally budgeted to cost $19 million, the additional $3.15 million in funds spent for remediation is expected to be recovered via litigation).
“So many people, as part of the journey, weighed in on what they wanted—people who already used the library, people who didn’t, children, grandparents, business professionals, nonprofits,” says Mary Stein, assistant library director. “People of all ages and expectations told us what they wanted this building to be, and that’s all encapsulated in this.”
Comprising some 48,316 square feet over its four floors, the library includes nearly 64,000 volumes in its collection. Other features include:
- A large meeting room that can hold up to 274 people;
- Three conference rooms that can each hold a maximum of 97 people;
- A rooftop terrace with 36 cafe seats and five benches;
- Fifty-two soft and casual seats, 136 total study or work seats, 93 computer seats and 90 other seats spread throughout the facility;
- A “Maker Space” with two 3D printers, a CNC machine, sewing machines and laser cutter for cutting and engraving, among other equipment;
- A media suite featuring a recording studio;
- Various teen rooms, including a project storage space, technology lab and programming room;
- A children’s programming room that will host story time, crafts and STEM or STEAM workshops.
Eventually, the first floor will also feature a small cafe space with a service window to the street or outside. Stein says the city-parish is expected to issue an RFP for a bidder to assume the space, which is temporarily being used for curbside pickup.
Not currently featured in the building, however, is a $94,000 Omniglobe that caused a stir late last year, when a library board member questioned why the agency was budgeting so much money for what he considered to be a luxury. But that doesn’t mean the globe is off the table, with Stein saying, over time, the price of the technology will go down as the number of options increases.
“One of the reasons we wouldn’t even look at it right now is because it’s touch-screen, so even if we had it installed, we’d have to have it turned off because of COVID-19,” says library director Spencer Watts. “It’s on hold for right now. There will be things we can add here over the coming months as they become more feasible.”
The new River Center branch library, originally conceived as the main library, was controversial long before construction began in December 2016, as critics decried it as a waste of taxpayer money. Then, in April 2018, a faulty weld on a beam in its signature cantilever overlooking North Boulevard Town Square caused a structural failure that prompted litigation and halted the project for more than a year.
While the library was “substantially complete” by late 2019, all its fixtures, furniture and equipment were scheduled to be installed this spring, around when the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout Louisiana. Consequently, these shipments came in later than expected, further delaying the library’s grand opening; however, it’s been offering curbside pickup service since late May.
Despite the various obstacles the project has encountered, Watts says he’s happy the library system has reached the point where it can open the River Center branch.
“It’s unfortunate it’s at a time when there’s so many restrictions, but by the same token, it’s a great time to be opening and extending service because we have plenty of people who need access to the technology and the services that we can offer,” Watts says. “Sometimes, challenges make the fruition of a project even sweeter.”
Friday’s grand opening ceremony will take place in the Town Square at North Boulevard.