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Madison group wants library rooftop garden

By Paul Snyder
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Inflating the cost of a proposed Madison Central Library by adding a rooftop vegetable garden will be a tough sell for a project already pushing $37 million.

“I’m not under any illusion that this is even close to a done deal,” said Madison Alderman Mike Verveer of the overall project. “We’re already working under the assumption that there can be $10 million raised from the private sector for the library.

“Maybe there is some kind of benefactor out there for a garden.”

Rooftop gardens merit consideration, Verveer said, but any multimillion-dollar bump to the library cost will be difficult to justify.

Still, Verveer said, he wants a better gauge of how much a community garden would cost. He said he will introduce Thursday an amendment to the city’s 2010 capital budget directing city staff to compile an estimate for the garden. The Common Council is expected to vote Nov. 10 on the budget.

The garden idea is the product of the Downtown Community Gardens Group. Jane Anne Morris, a founding member of the group, said people who live in downtown Madison want more gardening space.

But, she said, the idea is all her group can afford to offer for the project.

“We’re not architects or engineers,” Morris said. “We’ve got no staff, lobbyists or real organization. But we still say someone needs to engage and look at this.”

Madison-based The Fiore Companies Inc., the company proposing the new library, pulled together a preliminary estimate that predicted a rooftop garden would add more than $3 million to the project’s price tag, said Bill Kunkler, Fiore’s executive vice president.

“We haven’t done the markup to accommodate the extra weight load,” he said. “But in addition to that, you also have to figure in at least two exit stairwells, at least one exclusive elevator and an irrigation system.”

Fiore had proposed a green roof for the project, Kunkler said, but a vegetable garden is different. The architectural elements that would support roughly 16,000 square feet of grass and light vegetation are different from those needed to support enough soil to grow food.

If the city wants the garden, Kunkler said, Fiore can alter the project designs to accommodate the change. But the company never figured community gardens into initial plans, he said, because nobody asked.

“It’s a striking idea,” he said. “But I think there are some practical questions that need to be answered first.”

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