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Monday, September 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Library use soars at new building
By Susan Gilmore
It has been nearly four months since the flagship library opened, and the novelty hasn't worn off.
The number of items checked out doubled in August from the same month last year, and the library is seeing far more visitors than the old downtown library did.
"It's incredible," said City Librarian Deborah Jacobs. "Business is booming; the increase in circulation is huge."
The $165.5 million steel-and-glass library, designed by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, opened in May to rave architectural reviews.
At the time, the library said it was preparing for 8,000 visitors a day during its first year; the old library drew between 1,800 and 4,000.
Instead, Jacobs said, the 11-story library has been drawing as many as 12,000 visitors each day. Many of those are tourists, and the library is still leading tours four times a day. The day the library opened in May, nearly 26,000 people filtered through to see the new building, which was built on the site of the old one.
Circulation is continuing to grow, Jacobs said. Circulation in June was 57 percent higher than last June. August circulation was up 104 percent from the previous August. And August also saw nearly a 500 percent increase in the number of library cards issued compared to the year before, and a 450 percent increase in library visitors.
Jacobs said the library still is working to resolve some issues, including better signs and improved access for the disabled. Computers have been lowered to better accommodate those in wheelchairs, the heavy bathroom doors have been adjusted, and more lighting is being added to the stairs.
Linoleum is being placed over the elevator floor and the chartreuse stairs to prevent further wearing down of the paint.
Jacobs said concern that the transient population's use of the library could drive away patrons hasn't proved true.
Construction on the project began in August 2001. The project is part of a $196 million bond issue approved by Seattle voters in 1998 that also is paying for construction and renovation of branch libraries.
What hasn't been resolved, said Jacobs, is a dispute over construction costs. The building opened eight months behind schedule and $8 million over budget.
Construction delays drove up the costs, said Bart Eberwein, vice president of Hoffman Construction, which built the library. He attributed the delays to two factors: excavation problems and a redesign of the steel system.
While Hoffman Construction claimed $16.9 million in extra costs, a dispute-resolution board reduced that to $8.4 million, but no decision has been made about who will pay.
Negotiations still are under way, and the matter could end up in court. Jacobs said the discussions are not acrimonious.
"We talk and meet and revel in the beauty of what we created," Jacobs said.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
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