Manhattan library renovation struggles to overcome setbacks
By Erin Gallagher Correspondent May 27, 2014 7:50PM
The Mahattan-Elwood Public Library is $76,000 over budget on its $886,000 remodeling project, and the bills are still coming in. Recently, the Manhattan Village Board approved paying $6,500 to repave the alley by the library and also criticized library officials for poor planning. | Erin Gallagher ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:41AM
After six failed referendums, the Manhattan-Elwood Public Library found another way to give the 30-year-old building its first upgrade, but the project has not gone as planned.
A series of problems — including weather delays, a car hitting the building and a two-week blackout — has delayed the completion of the renovation project by two months and counting and has it $76,000 over budget, library director Ashley Hooper said. She now hopes that the work can be finished by June 30.
Not able to afford buying a larger space, library officials’ original plan was to add modular units and remodel the building, 240 Whitson St., Manhattan. Preliminary work began in October, and the first problem arose when the foundation could not be poured due to adverse weather, Hooper said.
Then in November, someone accidentally drove into the front of the building, pushing in a brick wall and knocking down bookshelves, she said, adding that the driver’s insurance paid for all the damage.
Another freak accident occurred when the construction equipment caught electrical wires attached to the library and pulled them down, causing a two-week blackout.
“We had to be completely closed,” Hooper said. “We were on (ComEd’s repair) schedule seven different times, and they canceled every time. It was just mayhem.”
Unforeseen expenses also were incurred, including upgraded computer technology, new carpeting and furniture and removing asbestos that was not anticipated in a building built in 1984.
Hooper called not anticipating those costs an “oversight,” but some Manhattan trustees disagreed. At the May 20 village board meeting, trustees approved spending $6,500 to repair an alley next to the library, and they sharply criticized library officials.
“I think the planning at the very top of your organization has to do some deep soul searching,” Trustee Tom Biscain said. “And I’ll just leave it at that.”
Library Trustee Keri English defended much of the higher cost as unforeseen.
Hooper, who became director May 1, said the library board hired an engineering firm, but she did not know why there was such a disconnect between the project budget and its costs.
The library sold $886,000 in debt certificates to cover the cost of the remodeling project, the modular units, related sewer work professional fees, and will use some reserve funds to cover the cost overruns, Hooper said.
“I guess my bottom line is we can pay for this, but we will be dipping into funds that we will not be comfortable leaving very low,” she said.