Discussion of the possible design of a new downtown library building took up much of Monday night’s relatively short Ann Arbor District Library board meeting.
The board met at 6 p.m. in closed session, then reconvened an hour later in public. No one spoke during the time allotted for public comment.
New library design
Carl Luckenbach, whose architectural firm is working on the design of the new library, began his presentation by expressing dismay over comments he’s heard and letters he’s read in The Ann Arbor News by people who don’t support the project. “They just don’t understand why Ann Arbor needs a new library,” he said.
He then spent several minutes going over a list of 15 reasons why a new structure is the best option. He noted that the current downtown library was constructed in three phases between 1957 and 1990, and that each phase involved compromises. Infrastructure problems, like insufficient toilets (there’s no public restroom on the third floor), a power system that’s used to its max, an internal structure of columns that makes creative renovation difficult and a failing sanitary system (repair parts have to be custom made) were among the issues he outlined. Others include:
Accessibility: All construction predates the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the current structure does not take into account the needs of that population to the degree that it should.
Event, meeting and exhibit space: As the library evolves into more of a gathering place for the community, there’s insufficient meeting space to accommodate that goal.
Security and safety: The pick-up and drop-off spot along Fifth Avenue is a major issue, there are odd corners in the building that are difficult to supervise, elevators are unreliable, and the fire alarm system is outdated, among other problems.
“That’s a litany of the deficiencies,” he said, adding that he hoped it would provide board members with sufficient ways to rebut criticism of a new building.
Luckenbach then walked board members through a series of projected images that showed how the new building could use expansive windows on the north and south sides and an atrium that bisects the structure to capitalize on natural lighting. “I hope this isn’t more than you want to know about light,” he said.
The final part of his presentation focused on rainscreen construction as an option for the building. This technique involves two layers: An underlying structural wall, and a “rain coat” made of a permeable material like terracotta or limestone. The outer material is clipped to rails that are affixed to the structural wall, and provide protection from the elements. The technique has been used on UM’s new Ross School of Business building as well as Biomedical Science Research Building (BSRB).
Luckenbach had several samples of terracotta and other materials that he showed to board members, as well as books that showed completed projects using the rainscreen method. He noted that unlike the UM campus, for the library “there is no immediate context for this building to draw upon. In some ways we have a clean slate. In some ways that makes it more difficult to zero in on what’s really appropriate.”
Doug Kelbaugh – former dean of UM’s College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and a member of the design team – described the terracotta as “very handsome.” He also emphasized the strength of that material, in contrast with iron or aluminum, which have been manipulated at the molecular level: “The more primeval the material, the longer it’ll last,” he said. “It’s pretty dumb, but true.”
Finally, Luckenbach laid out a timeline for presentations to the board, based on potentially putting a millage proposal on the ballot in February – a decision the board has not yet made. He proposed giving the board another design update in November, a life-cycle cost proposal in December, and a final schematic design and budget in January. But he gently requested a bit more time, calling the February deadline “very tight.”
“We will do a better job for not a penny more if we can have a little more time,” he said.
The board unanimously passed three resolutions:
1) A construction management services agreement with Skanska USA Building. The resolution approves spending up to $172,745 for pre-construction services through the end of this year.
2) Authorization to form the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled on Jan. 1, 2009. The county commission had already voted to dissolve the library at the end of the year, with the understanding that AADL would pick up and expand services for that group. AADL director Josie Parker explained AADL’s strategy for making the transition, which includes sending out letters – both written and taped – to all who currently use the Library for the Blind services, and holding a information session on Sunday, Nov. 16 from 2-4 p.m. at the downtown library to discuss the changes.
3) An official recognition of Robb Pilkerton, a library employee who retired in September. Board member Ed Surovell recalled that when he joined the board in 1996, Pilkerton was the only employee who called him and invited him for a tour. “He was open and warm and friendly and reached out, and I for one will miss him,” Surovell said. Parker reported that Pilkerton will now have more time to raise chickens – something he’s been doing for a long time.
Present: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Josie Parker, Carola Stearns, Ed Surovell. Absent: Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman, Prue Rosenthal
Next meeting: Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 at 7 p.m. in the library’s fourth floor meeting room, 343 S. Fifth Ave.