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St. Pete begins $13.4 million Obama Library renovation project

Mark Parker



The President Barack Obama Library has remained closed for over two years, and renovations will now cost $16.9 million. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

Following a drastic increase in scope, St. Petersburg is finally ready to launch the first phase of extensive renovations to the President Barack Obama Main Library; however, the total project cost is $13.4 million, and city funding is short by over half that amount.

During Thursday’s city council meeting, the city administration sought approval to award Biltmore Construction $1.48 million to begin the extensive renovation process, starting with selective demolition and asbestos abatement. City Architect Raul Quintana explained that the library, built in 1964, underwent an asbestos removal project in the mid 1980s. However, an encapsulated portion was left untouched, and following years of deterioration, the city must now remove the entire ceiling to clear the asbestos.

Quintana called the asbestos abatement a major project that is ready to start now and will enable city officials to see what is above the ceiling. He said it would also aid the design process for a new fire sprinkler system. The second item brought to city council was an amendment to the design agreement with architectural firm G2 Design LLC for $623,790.

“The scope of the work – from when they were first selected to where we are now and what we’re going to be proceeding with – has almost doubled in size,” he said. “This is now an opportunity for us to bring this library up to today’s standards.”

RELATED STORY: Main library officially renamed for Barack Obama

Quintana called the Obama Library a hub for the city’s seven-library system. He noted “fairly significant” renovations to the facility in 2010, although permit constraints limited aspects of that project. He said the new project received funding from Penny Round 4, and $6 million was allocated for renovations last year.

When city officials put that budget together, Quintana said they thought it was enough to begin renovations. However, as the project’s scope has doubled, so has the cost.

“Especially today, as we all know, the escalation of the market and costs,” he added.

Quintana relayed that the city also allocated $480,000 for a previous parking expansion that never came to fruition. He said the city is now including that with the latest renovation project. In addition to the asbestos abatement and new fire system, the initial project scope included upgrades to the HVAC system, lighting, elevator and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) improvements.

He noted the library’s restrooms were not ADA compliant, and the city could not make those adjustments until now. Building security, safety and technology upgrades were also included in the initial project, as was the repurposing and reallocation of interior space.

“This project has spanned two administrations,” said Quintana. “Even within that base project, we were over budget. We knew we were going to be short by about $3 million on the base project, and there were a lot of reasons for that.”

Quintana said Mayor Ken Welch then challenged his administration to complete all the necessary renovations and upgrades at once. The project requires the relocation of over 100,000 books and disrupts the library’s operations, and Quintana said it is not possible to complete the work in phases.

The project now includes structural modifications to eliminate the book stacks used to support portions of the mezzanine. The city also added a new chiller to increase energy efficiency, a complete roof replacement and entry canopy and exterior façade upgrades to the list of renovations.

“There was extensive planning and estimating and back and forth … for the benefit of the city,” said Quintana. “We’re now ready to proceed with the first part of that.”

However, money remains an issue for the $13.4 million project.

Funding for the original plan was short $3 million, and with the added scope of work, that number has increased to $7.2 million. With the return of congressional earmarks, now known as “community funding projects,” the city approved an application for $3 million in federal funding that Rep. Charlie Crist must submit by April 13.

Quintana said the city realized the original funding discrepancy last fall and shared the findings with then-Mayor Rick Kriseman. Once Welch took office in January, the various stakeholders decided it was best to increase the project’s scope.

Councilmember Richie Floyd said he is excited to see progress on the project but noted the new plans showed a reduction in book space. Mika Nelson, library director for the city, explained the library’s collection evolves with public demand. While the physical collection at the Obama Library may shrink, she said digital services would increase. She added any books removed from the main library would remain available at the city’s other facilities.

“There’s actually going to be – at the end of this – even more materials in both formats by the time the project is done,” she said.

Councilmember Ed Montanari questioned the timeline for the project expected to begin last year. Quintana said the demolition would take two months, and work on design plans would continue through that process. He hopes to bring the full proposal back to city council before the year’s end. The Barack Obama Main Library remains closed for the duration of the project.

“I think we’re in a good place with the entire team knowing what the tasks are over the next several months,” he added. “So, we should move fairly quickly.”

The city council unanimously approved Biltmore Construction’s $1.48 million proposal to start demolition and asbestos abatement and $623,790 to G2 Design for added services.



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    May 24, 2022at7:57 pm

    Is there an update on when the library will reopen? Seems silly that St. Pete wouldn’t even keep a portion of the library open for things like hold pickups and book returns. Such a shame to lose this resource in the community.

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    April 8, 2022at7:52 pm

    I am very interested why a big renaming ceremony and sign change was done and then it was shut down. I am sure our ex-mayor can address this. The library is important to the neighborhood Central Oak Park.

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