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Construction workers began fencing off the Bartholomew County Public Library plaza Friday as they prepared for the three-month renovation project.
The library, however, will remain open during the entire project with at least one set of steps and a handicapped accessibility ramp open at all times.
Library patrons looked on curiously in the afternoon as sections of silver fence began lining the I.M. Pei-designed building, completed in 1969, and the Henry Moore sculpture, “Large Arch,” at Fifth and Lafayette streets.
“I’m willing to work around it,” said Columbus resident Brenda Flanigan, a regular library visitor who had a bag full of books to return.
Flanigan didn’t know about the project but wasn’t bothered by a little inconvenience for the sake of improving the public building.
Work, set to begin Monday, will include replacing the steps on the front and side of the building, making changes to the handicapped accessibility ramps, replacing a section of dogwood trees and adding a new walkway between the library and Columbus Area Visitors Center.
The improvements are part of recent upgrades to the downtown architectural icon that also included summer roof repairs to fix leaks when it rained.
The project will not have any effect on local taxes. Cost for the project is about $1.2 million and will come from the library’s savings, an improvement reserve fund.
Library board members spent more than a year discussing possible outdoor renovation plans and gathered public input before deciding on a design that focused on historic preservation.
One of the early design suggestions added more landscaping and benches on the plaza and changed the steps to concrete. Some members of the community objected to the proposal and asked the library board to reconsider, which it did.
“I’m delighted that they’re going to return to the original plans the architect envisioned,” said Madonna Yates of Columbus, who was visiting the library Friday.
She also didn’t mind the extra steps it might take to walk around the fencing for the next three months so the plaza and steps could be repaired.
One of the biggest changes patrons will see is the current red brick steps being replaced with red granite slabs. Library board members said they had become concerned about the safety of patrons because of the crumbling bricks and the frequent need for repairs.
They chose granite because of its durability and viewed several color options before deciding on one they thought best matched the red bricks on the outside of the library walls, Library Director Beth Booth Poor said.
The first work will include demolishing the current steps facing Fifth Street, said David Doup, president of Taylor Brothers Construction Co., the construction manager. One of the staircases leading to the lower-level children’s area also will be demolished.
Residents will be able to access the library during the first phase of construction by using the other set of stairs leading to the children’s department and by the handicapped accessibility ramp in front of the building on Fifth Street.
Poor said the library will be accessible at all times by either stairs or a ramp, but the handicapped parking area will be a long distance from the ramp during Phase 1 of construction.
“Unfortunately, they will have to walk around the back of the building or to the front,” Poor said about the ramp entrance that is closest to the Inn at Irwin Gardens at Fifth and Lafayette streets.
Poor said signs will be placed along Fifth Street that it is a handicapped drop-off zone. She said no other options for changing handicapped parking existed because the remaining area surrounding the library is city street parking.
During the second phase of construction, the open handicapped ramp on the southwest corner of the building will be closer to the library’s handicapped parking area in the Franklin Street lot.
The entire project is expected to take three months, depending on the weather, Poor said. An earlier start date had been planned, but because of changes to the design plan and materials, construction was pushed back.
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