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Saturday, December 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Light Snow Fog/Mist
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Radical idea for Madison's Central Library: Use what's there now
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An architectural rendering of a rooftop garden on the existing Madison Central Library

Just about everyone thinks the Central Library is a dump and that Madison needs a new one.

But architects from Hammel, Green & Abrahamson highlighted Thursday night what is good about the building, built in 1965, and showcased how it might be rejuvenated.

Architect David Lang told Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and members of the city council that "when you walk through the library, it's tired, crowded, no daylight, a sea of fluorescent light."

But, the building still has a lot going for it, Lang said. It's in a prime location and the structure has flexibility, he said, calling it a "forever structure," and adding, "the greenest building is the one that's already built."

The library's columns are spaced 32 feet apart and structurally sound, allowing for varied floor plans, he says. "You gut that building in a couple of days and start fresh because of that flexibility."

Lang added that the building has hidden beauty that could be brought out in a renovation and work with the Overture Center across the street. "You have real limestone in this building," Lang says. "Cleaning that up would be a great and simple gesture." He also praised the building's "waffle concrete" which he called surprisingly beautiful, when exposed.

He said the lighting greatly needs to be improved, and suggested replacing the library's windows and cutting a large two-story window into the Henry Street side.

"The systems are a complete wash, a liability," he said.

Lang outlined three renovation options for the library. The cheapest, with a price tag of $10.5 million, includes replacing the library's aging heating and ventilation systems and roof, and making the building code compliant.

But, he added, this option would be mostly improvements "you don't see. It's not part of the public face of the building, but you've got to do it."

A slightly more expensive option, $11.9 million, would include cleaning the limestone exterior, adding a window on the Henry Street side and enclosing the current entrance in a glass atrium.

The most expensive option, for $14.6 million, would move the entrance parallel to Mifflin Street, add a third floor over a third of the building and leave the rest of it as a rooftop garden. The third floor could later be expanded across the roof, and the garden put on top, Lang said.

None of the cost estimates include money for furniture and other "soft costs," which would be $4 or $5 million more.

But, with a total cost of around $20 million, it's still cheaper than the $43-million proposal by Fiore, for a new structure on West Washington, which the Madison Library Board approved last month.

Council President Tim Bruer said there will be one more informal discussion meeting on the library, before the council grapples with the issue at its regular meeting.

Renderings of HGA's proposals can be seen here.

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