Pratt library needs repairs, study says


October 20, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Eight years after its last renovation, the Enoch Pratt Free Library's central building on Cathedral Street needs another $22 million worth of improvements in order to keep operating into the next century, consultants warn.

Necessary repairs include the complete replacement of the plumbing; the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment; and the interior power distribution systems. The building also needs updated lighting, telecommunications and fire protection systems, more energy-efficient windows and asbestos removal.

The 61-year-old building is "in need of drastic renewal and in serious danger of becoming unusable over the next two decades," concludes Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, the design firm that conducted an assessment of the library.

"Without this rehabilitation, it will not be possible to heat or condition the building either for occupancy or for preservation of the collection," say the architects, who drew on reports from engineers and other specialists. "Unsafe conditions with regard to fire prevention and egress will continue."

Carla D. Hayden, executive director of the Pratt system, said the report was commissioned by the library's trustees to win backing for a proposed addition.

The trustees several years ago sought $14 million from the state to build an annex along Franklin Street between the original library and the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at Park Avenue and Franklin St.

But state budget analysts wanted more information about the condition of the main building, which dates from 1933, before they would fund the addition. "The concern was, why attach it to something that's in terrible shape?" Dr. Hayden recalled.

The 1984-1986 renovation, which cost $3.2 million, involved adding 10,000 square feet of mezzanine-level space inside the main library, instead of addressing mechanical shortcomings.

The Ayers Saint Gross study says that the proposed addition could be built for $8 million. Combined with $22 million for repairs on the main library, the total project cost would be $30 million.

In 1971, Maryland's General Assembly designated the building as a State Library Resource Center. The state provides approximately half of its operating budget and is responsible for funding capital improvements.

The 23,748-square-foot annex would rise three levels on a base that already has been constructed along Franklin Street between the central library and the library for the blind.

Plans call for it to contain space for several departments now located in the main library, including the Special Collections of rare and fragile materials, the Bindery, the Maryland department, the African-American Collection and the gift shop.

It also would contain an expanded public computer center, a state-of-the-art Preservation and Conservation Laboratory that could extend the life of "brittle books," a coffee bar, a museum for valuable artifacts, offices and meeting space.

The library is seeking money in time for the first phase of construction to begin in 1998.

In a recent talk at the Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Hayden noted that the proposed addition would house two opposites -- a preservation lab for the rarest books and space for the latest in computer technology.

"What's interesting," she said, "is the very old and the very new will be treated together."

'New Urbanism' author to speak at symposium

California design consultant Peter Katz, author of "The New Urbanism," and Gardner Church, a Canadian expert on growth management and transit, are among the scheduled speakers at a day-long symposium on transit-oriented development that will be held at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Langsdale Auditorium, Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street, Baltimore.

The registration fee of $35 per person is payable at the door and includes lunch. For information, call the Maryland Office of Planning at 225-4500.

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