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Dirt Finally Moving at Library Site

Tue June 21, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Beverly B. Nichols

When the city of Fairhope first voted to build a new library in 2003, the projected cost was $3.9 million.

By 2005, when the groundbreaking actually took place, this figure had risen to more than $7 million. It took an architect’s vision to overcome problems that have beset the construction of the library for more than two years. And despite setbacks, all concerned with the project have remained enthusiastic.

The local firm of Walcott Adams Verneuille Architects designed the 39,000-sq.-ft. (3,600 sq m) two-story building. It will be four times the size of Fairhope’s present library, which is not only too small for the growing city but out-dated as well.

Original funding included $3 million from the city; $500,000 in federal money (arranged by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby); $500,000 from Friends of the Library and another $l million from private givers with additional donations arriving daily.

On the building site, located a block east of downtown Fairhope, a pecan processing plant, built in l946, was home to an art exhibit, but the structure had to be demolished.

IED Inc., of Foley, AL, won the contract to remove the building for a bid of 99 cents.

Lawrence Green, president of IED, explained that his intent in making the low bid was to assist in making the library a reality. The city’s crew agreed to help with the clearing job.

Green said that the factory area encompassed approximately 50,000 sq. ft. (4,600 sq m).

“We demolished part of the structure, disassembled some of it for recycling and have some of it stored on our property,” he said.

Soon came a discovery —that the pecan factory had been under consideration as an historical site, putting the half-million-dollar federal grant in jeopardy, since the State Historical Preservation Act prohibits federal funds from being used in projects in which an historical building is destroyed. The mayor and other officials in Fairhope pleaded unawareness of the designation.

In mitigation to restore the federal money, city officials agreed to renovate a second structure on the site and to arrange a permanent display in the new library about Alabama’s pecan industry and the factory’s part in it.

By 2004, rising costs, particularly of steel and concrete, boosted the estimate for the library to approximately $6 million.

The Mobile, AL, firm of J. F. Pate and Associates had been awarded the construction contract for a low bid of $5.9 million, with a completion schedule of 365 days. But funding remained a stumbling block because, once again, the projected costs had gone up.

Hollis Weisman, chairman of the Library board, indicated the group would continue fund raising and had contributors in mind.

It was during a Dec. l6 Fairhope City Council work session that Mac Walcott of the architectural firm, proposed a plan.

Based on the premise that once construction begins, interest in the library’s reality would bring in sufficient funds to complete the project, Wolcott recommended that the building be done in phases. The first phase would be to finish the outer shell and approximately one-third of the interior space on the first floor, which would make the library usable. The second floor had always been planned for expansion purposes. Completing the library would continue in phases as money became available.

On Jan. 24, the Fairhope City Council voted unanimously to follow Walcott’s concept. For this, a base bid from J. F. Pate of approximately $3.9-million covered building the exterior shell; completion of the heating, plumbing and electrical systems and finishing approximately 20,000 sq. ft. of interior space.

Early on, the validity of Walcott’s idea was confirmed when a contribution of $850,000 was received from Fairhope’s Single Tax Corporation. Other monies also are on the way. The company will hold the costs of the remaining phases for a period of six months.

Now that construction has begun, Fairhopians watch the daily progress at the 2.76-acre site. The estimated date for completion of the first phase is March 9, 2006.

J. F. Pate Superintendent Lennie Stewart said work is “pretty much on schedule.”

He added that his crew is currently preparing the building’s foundation. He said that terra-cotta drain pipes from the old building found in the ground had to be dug up and removed.

Also, 3,800 cu. yds. (2,900 cu m) of unusable dirt had been hauled from the site.

Equipment currently at the site includes a Volvo 465 backhoe, which will soon be joined by a Kobelco SK210; John Deere bulldozers (a 550 and a 450); a Caterpillar motorgrader and a Dynapac 708 roller. In a few more weeks, a crane will be brought in to assist with the structure. Quality Concrete of Daphne, AL, is a sub-contractor.

Only l4 employees are currently at work, but an estimated 40 to 48 workers will be needed when the building actually gets under way.

J. F. Pate and Associates is a family-owned and operated construction company founded in l927. This firm recently built the Mobile Museum of Art. It has other projects under way in Fairhope, one of which is rebuilding a large church damaged by fire.CEG

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