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Minneapolis architect wins Madison library job

Paul Snyder
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The criticism directed toward Madison’s selection of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Ltd. as Central Library designer has more to do with the process than the architect.

“The product we end up with has to last most of our lifetime, and it’s just too important to cut corners,” said Alderwoman Judy Compton.

In a memo (PDF) to Common Council and Madison Library Board members Wednesday, Library Board President Tripp Widder said Minneapolis-based MS&R beat four other finalists for the role of project architect. The decision needs approval from three city boards and the Common Council to become official.

Compton said Widder assured her MS&R is qualified for the job, but she said the city has missed an opportunity to get more project input from local firms.

Madison last year requested qualifications from architects to design the interior of a new library, while a development team led by Madison-based The Fiore Cos. Inc. designed the exterior.

But the deal with Fiore collapsed in March, and Madison chose to rebuild the existing Central Library. The city received 11 responses to the original RFQ.

Compton said once the project switched from designing the interior of a new building to rebuilding the existing library, the city should have issued a new RFQ.

But Common Council President Mark Clear said he’s not concerned about the selection process. He said a new RFQ could have gone out, but the city wants to get the project started quickly. He said Madison had a list of qualified candidates and did not have to start over.

A new RFQ, Clear said, could have delayed the process several months.

“This is just the next step in the process,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting the architect.”

According to Widder’s memo, MS&R executive Jeff Scherer will be in Madison June 7 to meet city leaders and community residents. Neither Widder nor Scherer was available to comment before deadline.

Steve Holzhauer, a principal in the Madison office of Eppstein Uhen Architects Inc., said the selection of MS&R is reasonable, but the city bungled the Central Library project’s process from the beginning.

Eppstein Uhen was a member of the Fiore-led development team and one of the five finalists in consideration for the rebuild project. He said his firm spent two years and a lot of money working to plan and sell the Fiore proposal.

“We pulled all the stops out because it was a legacy project,” Holzhauer said, “and I was, frankly, super excited about it. But it was ill-planned, and the city changed the rules a year and a half later.

“If we had known it was going to switch like that, we would’ve never spent the time and money we did.”

Compton said she supports rebuilding Central Library, but will ask her colleagues again Tuesday why the city cannot consider a new RFQ.

“I’m not sure whether anyone will agree,” she said. “But we’re not standing true to the city process as I understand it.”

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