Thursday, February 22, 2007

Some Library Cost Comparisons

In light of some of the comments that have been raised over the past few weeks by a few Carol Stream residents in letters to The Examiner, we think it is time to look more closely at the issue of the projected cost per square foot of the proposed new library. One writer has maintained in more than one letter that a projected cost of just over $300 per square foot is far too high and that a cheaper alternative would be to remodel an existing space at an estimated “$44-$78 per square foot.” It should be clear to all readers that such estimates cannot be accurately calculated unless a specific piece of property is identified and a detailed project cost analysis is completed. Still, the underlying question of the cost of building a library structure is a critical one for village residents, and so we have assembled some facts that help to explain the inescapable reality that library facilities are more complex than many other types of buildings and therefore cost more to build.

Each year, the editors of a professional trade publication called the Library Journal analyze all of the new academic and public library construction projects across the country, and the data from their 2006 report sheds some interesting light on this discussion. According to the information in this annual report which was published in December, 2006, six new library buildings were built in Illinois last year. All were branch libraries—five in Chicago and one in Hanover Park. The table below shows the cost per square foot of each of these new library construction projects.

Library Construction Projects in Illinois (2006)

As you can see, the cheapest project came in at $254.78 per square foot, and one of the Chicago libraries totaled $341.94 per square foot. Remember that the actual cost of the proposed Carol Stream Library cannot be accurately determined until the referendum is passed and bids are let out to contractors, and it is our hope that the competitive bid process will drive the estimated cost down below the $300 level. Given that our project is a main library building and not merely a smaller branch facility, the estimated cost seems to be well in line and consistent with other projects in Illinois.

As we have pointed out in other posts on this CSPL Friends blog, library construction tends to be more expensive than typical industrial or retail spaces. Large and open reading spaces require building materials that are engineered to support the structural weight demands of these larger spans. In order to fully meet the needs of the community, a modern library must also include special purpose meeting rooms, areas for processing a wide variety of print and digital media, and complex electrical and data cabling installations for computers and work stations. Just as it is does not make sense to compare construction projects in Illinois to similar projects in other states like Arkansas or Wyoming, it does not serve the interests of the community to compare the cost of this new library project with libraries built a decade ago or with storefront “satellite” branches which are almost always viewed as temporary fixes and not permanent solutions to an overcrowded community library crisis.

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