Indianapolis Central Library Project Plagued by Calamities

Tue January 17, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Lori Lovely

Budget overruns, costly delays, cracked concrete support columns and lawsuits exemplify the problems troubling the Indianapolis Central Library renovation and addition.

Originally scheduled to open this year, the tentative completion date for the Central Library has now been pushed back two years to 2008, although funding problems may continue to hinder progress.

Linda Mielke, appointed CEO of the Marion County library system last September, remains optimistic despite the controversies and crises she inherited.

She’s confident that the newly hired construction management team of Hunt Construction Group Inc. and Smoot Construction LLC will overcome the chaos and challenges left behind by the Library Delivery Team, a joint venture consisting of Trotter Construction Company Inc., Turner Construction Company of Indiana LLC, and Shiel Sexton.

“The board is taking aggressive action to complete the project since we’ve had trouble with it,” Mielke told the Indianapolis Star in November 2005. “The delay is behind us and we now want to complete this project as quickly as possible.”

Colleen Obergfell, the library’s project manager, said no final timeline has been determined.

“We’re still repairing the garage. We find new and interesting things every day. You just wonder why anyone would do such a bad job,” she said.

Tracing the Troubles

Controversy began even before the project won city council approval. The 123,550-sq.-ft. (11,478 sq m) library, built in 1917, was outdated and outgrown, unable to display its complete collection and incapable of accommodating new technology, teaching facilities, additional parking and other necessary library functions.

To add the proposed additional 293,000 sq. ft. (27,221 sq m) plus underground parking garage, project architect and planner Woollen, Molzan and Partners had to usurp some adjacent property along the central mall in downtown Indianapolis.

When public outcry subverted plans to demolish historic neighboring buildings, plans were redrafted to include a relocation plan.

Work proceeded smoothly after the library closed on Sept. 26, 2002, its contents transferred to an interim facility in downtown Indianapolis.

Excavation and demolition wrapped up May 23, 2003, and tower crane construction was completed and operational by June.

But progress slowed on June 19 when subcontractors for Shook Construction Corp. poured the first yard of concrete (of an estimated 22,000 cu. yd.) for the first footing of the 290,000-sq.-ft. (26,942 sq-m) post-tension structure that spans approximately an entire city block, with two levels below grade. The 115,000 sq.-ft. (10,684 sq m) street-level roof, or “garden level slab,” doubles as the foundation for the library’s six-story tower expansion.

Mike Davis, Midwest Concrete Pumping and Concrete Construction president, explained some of the logistical nightmares to the press, said, “Because the hole was so deep, they placed about 20,000 foot of waterproofing tarp down in the bottom to prevent groundwater from leaking into the workspace. Steel was laid over the waterproofing. The day before our first 3,300-yard pour, it absolutely poured.

“Electricity went down across the Indianapolis area, the hole basically flooded, and they had to get in and rip up the waterproofing and all of the steel. Pumps were installed below the waterproofing to prevent further overflow. When we finally made it to the site, we ended up cutting the pour down to 1,300 cubic yard.”

Weather and other on-site challenges continued to haunt the crew.

The proximity of historical buildings hampered work space. Shoring ran up against city streets. When the “hyperfix” interstate construction project rerouted traffic through the downtown area, complications arose, because lanes on Pennsylvania Street by the library were closed.

A ramp to the 28-ft. (8.5 m) excavation made ready mix delivery difficult, with drivers coasting down the ramp or braking heavily. Traffic issues and truck ingress induced scheduling overnight slab pours.

Despite the addition of a KVM 39X and a KVM 42 to Midwest’s 10-boom pump fleet, extra help was necessary on some of the larger pours. Edwards Concrete Pumping brought its 171-ft. (52 m) pump from Evansville to complete the task.

Vertical wall and column pours were performed during the day, but by using smaller booms that output only 60-ft. (18.2 m) sections at a time, there was no need to close additional lanes of traffic for truck and boom access, although Midwest did have a 105-ft. (32 m) Schwing boom pump on site to complete wall and column pours with 10,000 psi concrete.

The one-sided forms for the north and south walls required bracing systems against the shoring; the east and west walls used forms.

But in April 2004, work ground to a halt. Cracks and gaps were discovered in the foundation, and football-size holes were discovered in the beams and columns for the two-level parking garage.

An investigation was launched by Obergfell, using an independent engineering firm to survey the work to determine the significance of the problem. Both design and construction problems were discovered.

In May, the library suspended Shook Construction, barring the contractor from the project for “grossly defective work,” withholding a $1.3-million payment.

The library began litigation against Shook, as well as the engineer, architect and other companies, claiming the reinforced steel (used to strengthen concrete) was missing, and that beams and columns were improperly constructed.

“We’re suing everybody,” Obergfell said.

All parties vehemently denied the accusations. Shook quickly blamed the cracks on design flaws outside its control, noting it had raised concerns about the design, and that the library’s inspectors approved its work.

A $2-million countersuit was launched in another county, further complicating the issue for the library.

With litigation still pending, library officials reinstated Shook at the end of June, who hired a Maryland subcontractor, Structural Preservation Systems, to repair the cracks.

Library officials vowed to “aggressively pursue the recovery of all related damages and costs from all responsible parties.”

In the meantime, warned library board president Louis Mahern, the money will run out before the work is completed.

The Cost of Battle

While litigation plays out, work continues. After December 2005, it continued without the original Library Delivery Team, but the new general contractors struggle under the burden of budget woes.

The project was supposed to cost $103 million, financed through a combination of $59 million in public funds and $45 million in private contributions.

Costing 16-months of delay and predicted to run $45 million over budget, library officials are battling the city to continue.

The library wanted to issue bonds backed by property taxes, but city/county council members have fought back against the suggestion of property tax increases.

“The stadium can issue bonds,” explained Obergfell, referring to the new Colts football stadium that ran into budget issues before breaking ground. “But property taxes are our only revenue. We have to get more money to complete the work.”

A second public hearing is scheduled in January to decide on a property tax increase for bond issuance. The council denied a similar request in September.

Obergfell noted that the public supported the addition when it was proposed in 1998, but worried that the tax increase will make keeping support an uphill battle.

Recent hotel, rental car, food and beverage tax increases to pay for the city’s new football stadium have instilled resistance to additional tax hikes, resulting in a sports vs. culture battle for bucks.

City-county councilman Ron Gibson, who heads the committee reviewing the request, said there’s little chance of winning approval.

“I’m still not comfortable with the construction project,” he told the Indianapolis Star in August 2005. “I believe it was mismanaged.”

If anyone deserves a tax increase, he said, it’s the firefighters and police officers, who have undergone cuts recently.

He suggested exploring other “creative ways” to find money.

Other council members have gone on record against the tax increase until other city problems have been addressed. One council member added, “I’m tired of hearing about more increases to this project. It’s been a running tally. We need to find out where we can scale back, still make it a worthwhile project, and keep the finances in line with the current means of payment.”

Mahern is fighting mad. He said the library has already cut operations to the bone, reducing annual spending by $2 million. Library fines have been increased.

The only options left to cover the projected $1-million shortfall for 2006 ($6.3 million by 2008) are to drastically reduce services and hours or increase taxes.

But a 2003 measure by the Indiana General Assembly capping property tax hikes at 5 percent per year and giving the city-county council fiscal authority over the library effectively eliminated the latter option without approval.

State Senator Michael Young, who helped sponsor the legislation, insisted the city-county council should have decision-making power because it’s better able to prioritize local needs, and because its members are elected, they are held accountable to tax payers for the decisions they make.

Mahern emphasized that the requested $1.5-million tax increase was part of the project’s scheduled and approved financing; it has nothing to do with cost overruns.

He told the Star that in the past, they’ve tried to make the cuts as unnoticeable to the patrons as possible, but have run out of those options.

Obergfell noted that construction plans for other branches have been shelved because of operating cost issues, not Central Library construction cost issues. Money earmarked for other branches has been subverted to pay for the repair of the Central Library’s garage.

The board’s building committee is considering stopping work when the money runs out, but Obergfell said it would cost more to stop and restart than to carry on.

The library had to pay Hagerman Construction, the steel contractor, approximately $2 million to cover extra costs due to delays. Gibson agreed that the library is better off to continue work, and believes it should not have been stopped before.

Past, Present and Future

Obergfell confessed that budget concern isn’t the only problem facing the ongoing work. With so many issues, delays and problems, spirits are flagging.

“Morale is definitely a challenge,” she said.

Despite the mood, work continues and progress is being made.

Renovation and reconstruction of the Cret Building is done, except for some wiring and sprinkler heads.

Completed work includes new mechanical and electrical systems, carpet, wall finishes, lighting fixtures and glass replacements.

Remaining work includes connecting the Cret Building to the new addition.

Unlike some other library renovations that convert the original building into a museum, the Cret Building will continue to be used as an integral part, housing the fiction department.

“We’re doing all we can that isn’t dependent on the garage,” explained Obergfell. “They’re still repairing underneath, but not under the auditorium.” Due to fixed columns, crews can work in the tower.

Work on the addition resumed in June, and by November, the decking and concrete for the first five floors was complete.

Obergfell said the steel is up for the tower, and the fireproofing is done. Approximately 4 million tons of structural steel has been used. The side of the atrium is waiting on repairs.

In the coming months, workers will focus on completing the steel work, and inserting frames for the escalators, elevators and glass walls and ceiling for the atrium.

Once the framework is encased, completion of the interior should take approximately a year.

A man-materials lift will be constructed on the east side to facilitate completion of the work, providing easier access to the floors while the glass curtain wall is being installed on the tower addition.

The original building’s historical and architectural significance has been preserved.

Maintaining the beauty of the existing Cret Building was one of the requisites of the Central Library Transformation Project.

A stone carver of Angelo Stone Company of Bedford, IN, performed hours of specialty work on the building’s acanthus leaves and acorns on the 40-ft. (12.2 m) high stone on the northeast corner. Extending it 5 ft. makes the finished edge look original. When the annex was demolished in 2003, it exposed an unfinished section.

Linking the 90-year-old building to the new tower is a four-story atrium, which will serve as the “hub” of the refurbished library.

Meeting rooms, a computer training lab, language labs, reading rooms, a 350-seat auditorium, an information center, store and cafe highlight the improvements planned for the new facility.

Obergfell said the old Central Library attracted approximately 2,000 people a day, and estimated that number will increase significantly when the library reopens.

Mielke hoped that the new construction manager will get the building finished ahead of schedule. Mahern expected no more major setbacks. Gary Meyer, chairman of the board’s building committee, said the stopwatch has been started again. CEG

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