Austin City Council members learned last week that the completion of the new downtown public library has been hit with delays, again.
“I do think that it is getting very close, but I don’t have a specific date that I can give you quite yet,” Toni Lambert, acting director of libraries, told council members at a budget meeting.
“It’s a Groundhog Day,” said Council Member Ora Houston. “I’ve only been on the council two years and some months, and that’s the response I get every time – that it’s soon, it’s soon.”
Construction on the library began in 2013, and the original opening was set for November 2016. Now, there's no clear date. Once construction is complete, public library staff will need five to six more months to prep it for the public, including adding furniture and installing shelves. The library could open as early as this fall.
“I don’t know exactly when that date will fall,” Lambert said.
In 2006, Austin voters approved $90 million in bond money to construct the library. But years later, a “revisioning” of the project made it clear that more money would be needed, so in 2010, city council members approved an additional $30 million. Last year, council signed off on another $5 million, bringing the total project cost to $125 million.
City staff has said the increased price tag is not because staff underestimated costs, but because the project design changed since voters approved the bond money a decade ago.
“It wasn’t a cost overrun; it was a change in scope,” Mayor Steve Adler said. But he told staff they needed to be more specific with the public about what has caused the delays and additional costs. “If we could have a definitive statement to that, that really does explain that, I think that would be really helpful.”
Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said the experience has strained the public’s trust.
“We cannot repeat this,” he said. “If we can’t clearly and definitively answer how a $90 million project turned into a $125 million project, how can I go back to the community to build the next thing?”