The Birmingham Public Library’s central building will close Monday as construction begins on a long-awaited staircase.
“I think we can all agree that today has been a long time coming,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said Tuesday during a press conference, drawing laughter from a crowd comprised mostly of BPL staffers and board members. “I thank each and every one of you for your patience. It’s been overwhelmingly tested.”
The stairs will replace a pair of escalators that extend from the building’s lobby to the fourth floor. Both escalators have been defunct — and roped off to prevent injuries — since December 2014, drawing complaintsfrom patrons and staff alike.
Repairing the escalators was impossible, Woodfin said, because the required replacement parts are no longer available – and installing a newer model of escalators “would exceed the costs of installation” for the staircase.
Plans for a new staircase stretch back to at least 2016, when Woodfin’s predecessor, William Bell, was in office. “I inherited an administration where we had a lot of outstanding capital projects that in my opinion should have been done well prior to be being in office, if I can be really, really frank,” Woodfin said.
The Birmingham City Council allocated $1.5 million to the project last year. Mountain Brook contracting firm Taylor & Miree will handle construction; Birmingham architect Creig Hoskins designed the stairs.
Woodfin blamed the five-year delay on a lack of communication at City Hall. “There was a hiccup somewhere,” he said. “No one pushed the project, no one was forceful in the conversation to say, ‘Get this done.’ (But) the truth is, it doesn’t matter. It’s unacceptable… It hasn’t been fair to the patrons of this library, and it hasn’t been fair to the central staff who work here every single day.”
Construction on the new staircase is expected to continue from Sept. 16 to early February 2020, during which time the Central Library’s East Building will be closed to the public, with the exception of the BPL Friends Bookstore, which will remain open. Most of the departments at the Central Library, including circulation, fiction, business/science/technology, arts/literature/sports, and citizens services, will move to the third floor of the neighboring Linn-Henley Research Libra