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Madison library architect checks in, and it’s all smiles

The plans for a new Madison Central Library . (Photo by Henry A. Koshollek)

New plans for the Madison Central Library were warmly -- almost too much so -- received Monday. (Photo by Henry A. Koshollek)

By Paul Snyder

The madness surrounding Madison’s Central Library seems to have subsided. Well, at least at the city level.

At least for now.

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, of course. This is a city where things can change in a flash and any resident with a problem about a project has as much opportunity to make noise about it as the next guy.

Rooftop gardens could become a real fight yet. Who knows what criticisms await the initial designs for the rebuild?

But when Jeff Scherer — a principal of Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Ltd. — introduced himself to the city’s Board of Estimates Monday night, he was as warmly received as I think anyone could dream.

Scherer and Doug Hursh of Potter Lawson Inc., the Madison-based firm teaming with MS&R on the design work for Central Library, took the board through a host of MS&R’s past work. He said they were eager to involve the public in the design process and did not take the job of this project lightly.

The unanimous approval of a resolution for the city to contract with the team didn’t surprise me. However, the gushing “thank you’s” and “we’re so happy to be working with you’s” from Alderman Mike Verveer and Alderwoman Satya Rhodes-Conway did.

It was less than three months ago that the original plan for a Central Library — a new building on West Washington Avenue — fell apart as negotiations between the city and a development team led by The Fiore Cos. Inc. crumbled.

City leaders demanded to know what went wrong (I know some are still waiting for a detailed response), business leaders said the city needed to get someone else to do a new building, and others lamented the fact that architects selected for the Fiore project were the only candidates left for the rebuild.

The library saga has carried a lot of drama with it since March, but there was no lingering cynicism Monday. Everyone seemed content and, dare I say, excited to move forward.

A big part of me thinks that’s down to Scherer. He’s been very astute in his first words to the media and city leaders. He insists he wants to get to know the city’s personality and what truly can and cannot be done with the library before he commits to any aspect of it.

It’s a cautious approach, and given Madison’s “personality,” it’s probably a good course of action.

Sooner or later something will rile someone. But as Madison historian Stu Levitan told me when the city officially got behind a rebuild instead of a new building, the debates that moved through the city in March and April will only be remembered by those that are really interested in the backstory. A Central Library is bigger than that and will outlast the shouting.

It seems other city leaders are feeling that way too.

Paul Snyder is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 225-1844. Oh, and he has a few overdue books.

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