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Post-Katrina Construction Includes New Libraries

Tue November 02, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, all of the city’s public libraries sustained some type of damage. There was such destruction in five of the public libraries that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared them more than 50 percent damaged. This declaration allowed for the agency to cover the cost to demolish and rebuild the five facilities. Construction of the five libraries will occur under one design-build contract worth almost $27 million, which was awarded to a joint venture of contractor, Gibbs Construction of New Orleans, and the architecture firms, Gould Evans Associates of Kansas City, Mo. and Lee Ledbetter & Associates of New Orleans.

The libraries that are slated for demolition and rebuilding under this contract are the Algiers Regional Library, the East New Orleans Regional Library, the Norman Mayer District Library (known as Gentilly), the Nora Navra Neighborhood Library, and the Robert E. Smith Community Library. Except for the Nora Navra Neighborhood Library all of the libraries have been demolished.

According to Brian Bertucci, senior project manager over all five libraries and employed by Gibbs Construction, the Nora Navra library has not yet been demolished because work on it has been put on a 90-day hold due to issues with the property where it is to be built. By December 2010 there should be a decision as to whether or not construction can proceed.

The East New Orleans, the Norman Mayer and the Robert E. Smith libraries were all demolished under a separate contract with the city of New Orleans. The Algiers branch was demolished under the design/build contract by a Gibbs subcontractor, Durr Heavy Construction of New Orleans. Gioe’s Truck Service and Demolishing, New Orleans, also assisted in the demolition of the Algiers branch.

The Algiers branch did not flood during Katrina but sustained substantial roof damage which destroyed the library’s contents. Initial designs of the new facility consist of three stories and approximately 28,000 sq. ft. (2,520 sq m) with parking on the ground floor. The cost of this location will be $7.3 million. Each library is designated with a specialty, and Algiers is considered the “Wellness” branch. Even though demolition has been finished at the Algiers Regional Library and the site has been leveled, the remaining construction has been put on hold. Some components are being redesigned, and there have been issues with planning and zoning. Still, construction should begin within 30 to 60 days.

The East New Orleans Regional Library is very similar in design to the Algiers branch. It also will be almost 28,000 sq. ft. and will cost about $7 million. It is designated the “Technology/Innovation” branch. In addition to demolition being completed on this site, there is fill at the building pad and paving has been done. According to Bertucci, “quite a bit of fill” was brought in to bring the whole site up about 4 or 5 ft. (120 to 150 cm). The building construction, he explained, “should start in the next two weeks, and it will be a nine-month project.” This location should be completed by September or October of 2011.

One of the oldest branches, the Norman Mayer District Library, also called Gentilly, opened in 1949. The new design increases its size from a little under 8,000 sq. ft. (720 sq m) to about 21,000 sq. ft. (1,890 sq m).

“The building takes up the whole site,” Bertucci explained. It will cost $5.5 million to build and is the designated “Music” branch. This facility has been under construction for about a month and should be finished in eight months, said Bertucci. Site work has been done, piles have been driven and the foundation has been poured, including the footings and the slabs, at this location.

The Robert E. Smith Library is the designated “Community” branch costing $4.5 million. This building will be 14,000 sq. ft. (1,260 sq m) and will have meeting rooms, public-use computers and a gift shop. Its construction is making similar progress to Gentilly in that it also has been under construction for about a month and should be finished in eight months. Furthermore, site work has been done, piles have been driven and the footings, slabs and foundation are finished. Like Gentilly, the building takes up the whole site.

The design of the Nora Navra Library, designated the “Neighborhood” branch, is complete even though demolition and construction have been delayed due to land acquisition issues. This $3.2 million branch will be around 6,800 sq. ft. (612 sq m) and will include meeting rooms, computer stations and a gift shop.

In addition to the individual designs mentioned, all of the new libraries will include Wi-Fi hot spots, community meeting rooms and computers for public use. The three largest branches, Gentilly, East New Orleans and Algiers, will have dedicated rooms for children’s story time. Furthermore, all facilities are being built above the new FEMA flood elevation requirements.

Each new library also will have an “Enterprise Zone,” which may consist of a coffee shop or another type of unique shop within the library itself but will act as a standalone business.

“The space and utilities will be there to build out,” stated Bertucci.

The timeline for the library construction has been adjusted several times. One reason is that the city of New Orleans is new to the design/build process, which has resulted in the construction delays. None of the required systems were in place.

“That caused some issues,” said Bertucci. “There is a learning curve.” Another factor that delayed work is that funding is coming from at least four different sources. This resulted in invoicing and payment problems.

In the end, New Orleans will have an upgraded public library system which will bring the city into the 21st century. Gould Evans is known as the “library expert,” Bertucci stated, “and we are building the city some state-of-the-art libraries.”

Bertucci is optimistic about completing most of the libraries in a timely manner: “By September or October 2011, four will be completed unless there are any more snags.” CEG

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