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Madison Common Council sounds off on library reconstruction

By Paul Snyder

Madison Common Council members Tuesday questioned whether the city’s plan to rebuild its existing central library is better than a new project.

“Were we too enthusiastic?” asked Alderwoman Thuy Pham-Remmele of the council’s approval last year of a plan to build an estimated $37 million new library on West Washington Avenue. “Because I think the way this has changed lost us a lot of public trust. The mayor and the people who make these decisions made us look bad.”

During a library project status update prior to the council’s meeting Tuesday, Library Board President Tripp Widder and Andrew Statz, the city’s fiscal efficiency auditor, spoke of the importance of supporting an estimated $30 million reconstruction of the city’s existing library on West Mifflin Street.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and other city leaders last month began supporting the reconstruction after negotiations to build a new building with a development team led by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. fell apart over a disagreement about whether the project could meet the $37 million budget.

Widder said its important the city moves quickly on reconstruction to take advantage of low construction prices and also prevent further deterioration of the existing building.

Deferred maintenance estimates are up to $5 million for the central library, Widder said, and the longer the city waits to invest in a project, the more likely it will be stuck paying for repairs.

“It would be money wasted (if the city intends to invest in total reconstruction),” he said.

But Alderman Bryon Eagon said he wanted discussions about a new project to remain open through May 4 to see if other developers would propose an alternative new project.

Any new project would delay the construction process, Widder said.

A new development proposal likely would not fit the Fiore deal, which included the purchase of the existing library site for redevelopment, so the city would have to open a new request for proposals, select a new project and try getting money for it in a future budget.

“And even if we select someone, it’s still open to different conditions,” he said. “So we could end up with the same disappointing result we had this time.”

Pham-Remmele said she wants to support the reconstruction, but she’s nervous city leaders are trying to rush it and council members will make the same mistake they did supporting the new building proposal.

“Haste makes waste,” she said. “I’m worried now that what we’ve rejected was something truly wonderful.”

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