Downtown library structural problem ultimately cost $3.6M 

A rendering of the downtown library, which is now nearly complete.

When the Metro Council meets virtually Wednesday, among the items on its agenda will be to approve final acceptance of the star-crossed downtown library, which is finally completed at a cost of some $18.1 million.

That’s $3.6 million more than the North Boulevard facility was originally budgeted to cost. But a faulty weld in a steel beam in the building’s signature cantilever caused a structural failure in April 2018 that delayed the project by 18 months and increased its cost by more than 21%.

Most of that additional cost—$3.16 million—went directly to remediation work on the damaged part of the building. An additional $446,000 was needed to repair unforeseen conditions and miscellaneous problems that were detected during the remediation process, including vapor barrier issues, fourth-floor balcony roof repairs and main roof repairs, according to Bubba Cascio, city parish director of building and grounds.

While the city-parish is technically picking up the tab for the pricey repairs—an expenditure that, admittedly, looks questionable as the coronavirus pandemic is putting the squeeze on already tight municipal budgets everywhere—the money is not coming out of the city-parish general fund. Rather, the library board will be paying for it out of its pot of dedicated money.

More significantly, the city-parish is expected to be reimbursed once litigation over the structural failure is complete. Indeed, the Metro Council voted in 2019 to approve fronting the money for the repairs rather than letting the half-finished building sit empty, incurring additional damage and exposing the city-parish to liability.

“It is our expectation we will be reimbursed after this litigation is settled,” Cascio says. “We made the decision to front this and get it finished and get reimbursed later, otherwise it would have ended up costing a lot more.”

The building was originally scheduled to open in January, then in March, and then April 22, which is Wednesday. But because the state is under shutdown orders through at least the end of the month, the opening is now delayed until May or later.

Also on pause is an ongoing legal battle between the city-parish and the architects and engineers who designed the building. Negotiations between the various parties in the lawsuit, filed in November 2018, have been ongoing for months. Talks were last held in March but no agreement could be reached.

They are expected to resume once the courts reopen.

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