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Rejection part of the job for Madison Central Library architect

By: admin//September 29, 2010//

Rejection part of the job for Madison Central Library architect

By: admin//September 29, 2010//

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(Image courtesy of the city of Madison)
(Images courtesy of the city of Madison)

By James Briggs

The architect in charge of designing Madison’s Central Library is breaking hearts as plans inch closer to a final drawing that will please — or at least appease — the city and the library’s patrons.

That’s just fine with Jeffrey Scherer, lead architect on the Madison library project for Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle Ltd., which has designed close to 200 libraries across the country and become adept at saying no to people.

“We’re working with a budget that is less than the cost of a new library. That’s causing all kinds of heartaches,” Scherer said. “The staff needs things they’re not going to get. The public wants things they’re not going to get.”

The Downtown Community Gardens Group, for instance, has tried for about a year to persuade city and library leaders to install a community garden on the roof of the reconstructed building. Scherer, though, shot down a garden during a recent public meeting.

That doesn’t mean, he said, that such organizations will never get what they want — they just might have to keep pushing for it.


“They’re going to get a good, quality building that will allow them to add to it and make adjustments as things evolve,” Scherer said. “So if some day in the future they want a community garden, the building ought to be designed so they can put it there.”

Long-term function is the key for Scherer, who is receiving input from all interested parties and meshing it together during a four-month strategy phase.

Limited to a $29.5 million budget, Scherer on Tuesday said the preliminary plan already has shrunk from 126,000 to 116,000 square feet, eliminating elements such as a coffee shop, a drive-up book return, an art gallery and some staff work space.

Although reduced work space might irk library staff members, most of the city’s desires are being met, said Jeanne Hoffman, facilities and sustainability manager for Madison. Others, such as a thermal envelope around the building, are at least still on the table.

“Obviously, from a facilities point of view, energy efficiency is really important to us,” Hoffman said. “I’m not willing to concede that we’re giving that up yet.”

Options still under discussion include possible construction of an atrium that would resemble that for the nearby Overture Center for the Arts and the number and placement of entrances.

But even more important than determining specific elements that make the final design, Scherer said, is creating a library that will let future generations redraft those decisions. Library buildings, he said, must be built to last 100 years, yet retain enough flexibility to accommodate unforeseen uses.

“The cutting-edge trend in library design is to create a building at the right size, but not obsess about what’s in it. Nobody knows what’s going to be in it,” Scherer said. “There’s still a lot of stuff being sorted out on the marketplace.

“Some academic libraries have gone totally electronic and have no print at all. We wanted to give Madison a choice and not be too prescriptive.”

While several groups have opinions on what should be included in the library, all sides are likely to be at least somewhat disappointed, said Madison Library Board President Tripp Widder.

“Staying within that budget number is very important,” Widder said. “It involves choices, and I think the way we’re approaching it allows us to pick and choose which elements are most important.”

Some features will be rejected now to leave open more options later.

“I’m fine with that,” Widder said.


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