By Maggie Lee
Updated with better photos of the sketches and a link to the presentation.
If there’s something everyone can agree on, it’s that Downtown’s Atlanta’s main library is in sad shape. The news that bathroom renovations are coming drew some cheers from folks at the library Wednesday night, though they had little positive to say of new windows and new tenants sketched out for the landmark building.
Architect Tim Fish from firm Cooper Carry showed some few dozen slides at the public meeting in the library’s basement. The meeting attended was billed by the Atlanta-Fulton Library System as a “sneak peek” at design plans for the Central Library.
The library united preservationists in anger when library leaders discussed demolishing the 1980 structure by architect Marcel Breuer and replacing it with a new library.
But the Fulton County Commission nixed the demolition idea and in 2016 voted for renovations. The $50 million job will include things like new electrical and mechanical systems. But Cooper Carry is also talking about some design changes.
The county is looking to put out bid documents for the construction work as early as May.
Natural light is what people want, said Fish, and the plan is two rows of new windows on the front of the building plus a new atrium that will let light in.
A couple of folks who said they were nearby residents rejected the proposed new windows.
One man said the sketch of new windows made him sick. Others said adding the windows was like defacing a statue or any other artwork.
Another man spoke up and told the crowd that he lives nearby and uses the library every week. He said he never walks into the library and thinks he’ll be driven away by any lack of natural light.
“The urine smell, the guy that had to be taken out on a stretcher today, the snoozing at the tables, the disastrous condition of the bathrooms … that’s going to keep happening no matter if you spend $100 million on the building. You have to do something about that,” he said.
Cooper Carry’s plan would also see private tenants offered some 50,000 square feet of the 250,000-square-foot building. Leased portions would include part of the ground floor, part of the second floor and the entire space on the seventh and eighth floors that’s not taken up by machinery. If this happens, the library might seek tenants like cafes, Georgia State University or offices, though it’s really too early to say. But no matter who the tenants would be, the idea is to get more people circulating through the building.
The library doesn’t use all its space and tenants would generate some income to help pay for the works.
“Lease space was included basically because the allocated funds would not renovate the entire library,” said Fish.
That got greeted with a little skepticism. One man asked if the renovations are so expensive, why not skip cutting new windows in the building?
A Fulton County bond construction administrator didn’t have a figure on hand for materials and labor for cutting the new windows.
Downtown preservationist and activist Kyle Kessler accused library bosses of failing to canvass very many library users about how to redo the library.
About 60 folks were at the library Wednesday night, but some of them were county or contractor staff. And Kessler and others had spread the word of the meeting via social media and emails.
An earlier series of four meetings at the Central Library attracted about 30 people besides staff, according to county notes provided to Kessler via an open records act request, though he said sign-in sheets show the actual number of attendees who weren’t county staff or contractors was 19. Kessler said meetings held in north and south Fulton attracted no members of the public.
During the Wednesday meeting, a Cooper Carry staff member said she did not have at hand the number of people who had attended earlier meetings, but that it was about “half” the amount then in the room.
An online survey got a grand total of two public responses, according to the documents.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but I do question whether we’re spending our money effectively as Fulton County taxpayers,” said Kessler.
“What we’re shown here is continual evacuation of spaces in the building, continued deterioration of services provided,” he said.
The Central Library branch is one of several that’s getting a redo with bond money that Fulton voters approved in 2008.
Asked who makes the final decision about the design, the executive director of AFPLS said the Fulton County Commission didn’t get involved with the design of other library renovations, but he suspects the county’s elected leaders will want to hear about this one.
Newly elected County Commissioner Natalie Hall watched the meeting and said the library’s fate was one of her main concerns coming into office.
She said the Wednesday meeting is not the last meeting and that she herself will call another one.
“We are going to take all of your comments, suggestions and concerns, ADA and everything, and we’re going to look at how we can address these things and make sure you receive what you want in your community,” said Hall.