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Poll: $70 Million To Renovate The Central Library A Good Investment?

November 25, 2012 Downtown, Education, Featured, History/Preservation 14 Comments

Next month the Central Library will reopen after being closed for nearly two and a half years:

Central Library is in the midst of a $70 million dollar restoration and renovation. Over four million books and other items were moved out of the building for safekeeping and reorganization before this enormous project could begin. Central Library will reopen late in 2012 – a century after it first opened to the public – as a great research and community library for the 21st century. (slpl,org)

It reopens to the public on Sunday December 9, 2012.

ABOVE: Main facade of the Central Library, November 17, 2012

From July 2010:

The city of St. Louis closed on the sale of $65 million in bonds June 30, clearing the way for construction on the nearly century-old facility to begin later this summer. (St. Louis Business Journal)

The remaining funds were raised privately through the library foundation. The new library will be quite different than what generations have known, the old central stack area behind the scenes no longer has the glass walkways and administrative offices moved to a newer building to the west, freeing up more public space.

A few Central Library facts:

  • Opened: January 6, 1912
  • Architect: Cass Gilbert 
  • Carnegie grant: May 12, 1901

With Carnegie’s $1,000,000 grant St. Louis built seven libraries — six branches and the central (source). I read somewhere Carnegie told other cities to not do like St. Louis did — putting a large percentage in one building. Today some might say $65 million in public bonds might have been better spent if spread around to the many infrastructure needs of the city. Others say such an institution is critical to our future.

The poll question this week asks if this was a good investment? The poll is in the upper right sidebar.

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed says:

    Willing to bet that the Public Library system will close 5 branches over the next 2 years. It’s like GM doubling down on V8 engines- unfortunately not part of the everyday lifestyle of the public anymore.

  2. JZ71 says:

    I voted unsure since I/we have yet to see the final results. Part of my ambivalence is to wait and see how well the old and new are integrated (functionally and architecturally), and part of it is to wait and see how relevant (and used) physical libraries remain in a digital age. Yes, $70 million is a big investment, but it’s way too early to tell if its going to be a good or bad one.

  3. Eric says:

    Not in the internet age.

  4. Daniel says:

    Saying that libraries aren’t part of the “everyday lifestyle of the public” in the “Internet age” seems to ignore that libraries have computers that connect to the Internet, and there are people who use them.

    And I don’t agree with your (Steve’s) premise that the $65 million in public bonds are a binary — either we solve the “many infrastructure needs of the city” or we get a shiny renovated central library. The bonds were issued by the St. Louis Public Library, which is a separate taxing jurisdiction from the city of St. Louis, which can issue its own bonds for its own transportation needs. Suggesting the bond money would have been better spent on developing the system’s branches is a legitimate dissent, not putting up red herrings about infrastructure and straw man arguments about libraries not being used.

    • Daniel says:

      I should clarify — there is a separate property tax allocation for the library; the bonds were issued by the city with the expectation that the taxes for the library would support the bond payments.

  5. Sgt Stadanko says:

    I know this might not be a politically correct thing to say, but with all the money they have put into this, I hope there will be measures in place for keeping the pan handlers & street urchin out of this facility. I believe before the renovation, there were problems.

    • True…when I would go there on weekday mornings, you could almost guarantee there’d be a homeless person cleaning up/washing clothes in the basement bathroom or lounging in the computer room. Not the most inviting environment for reading/learning.

  6. I am not sure if it was worth it. I am a little heartbroken that, as a newcomer, I never made it down to see the old stacks before they were gone. So, I hope it was worth the loss of such a unique structure. What are the actual facts about library usage now? It sure seems like our branch – Carpenter – is PACKED, both the computer sections and the book sections. It seems like a vital and vibrant part of the TGS community.

  7. tpekren says:

    At the end of the day this is a civic investment to the community. Also, libraries have and continue to develop a role in providing access to information on multiple platforms. I think thier use and value has increased for a lot of communities who haven’t given up on them and think St. Louis and the donors are doing the same here. Nor do I think the size of the investment for the given size of the city and region is not out of norm. Plus, The city needs to make big statements if it wants to have a meaningful role of being the center of the metro area.. Just as Forest Park and the museum district has benefited the city as well as the region as a whole. even though others are may have a larger burden then others. That is another discussion. for another day.
    The question in my mind and noted in a few posts. Can the library find a way to provide a pleasureable and meaningful use of what is and continues to be a great asset. Or put another way, I think the city, law, and ordinances should come down on those who are lounging for the sake of shelter and some how think that the library was built so they can a place to wash their clothes.

    • JZ71 says:

      Many professional librarians embrace the concept of open to all, while many non-homeless patrons have issues with libraries becoming ad hoc shelters instead of just repositories for information. This also seems to be primarily an urban issue, one that reflects the local population. Personally, I’m conflicted and can see both sides. My cynical side says librarians put up with it because it helps keep the daily headcount high (job security), my compassionate side says what are the other alternatives (segregation vs, integration)? The better answer would probably be free access for the homeless to the city’s recreation centers, since it makes more sense to take a shower in a locker room than to try and clean up in a public restroom . . . .


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