Library Board Hears News of Higher Than Expected Renovation Estimates

Mary Riles Styles Public Library. (Photo: City of Falls Church)

Despite reportedly daunting news that came to the Mary Riley Styles Public Library board of trustees last week, library director Jenny Carroll issued a bright statement Wednesday that “we are moving forward and excited for a better and brighter” renovated facility.

What concerned the library board last week, board member Brad Gernand told the News-Press, was “new construction cost estimates suggesting we will be over $2 million short of accomplishing our objective.”

Gernand reported, “Twelve months ago a cost estimate suggested we would be $400,000 shy, and we were thinking toward ways of downsizing our modest ambitions, likely through changes to the proposed interior. During the past year, however, local costs for labor and materials have skyrocketed.”

Carroll told the News-Press in a phone interview Wednesday that plans are moving ahead, following the successful sale of $8.3 million in municipal bonds at a very favorable interest rate on the bond market last week, with the immediate objective being the hiring of a “construction manager at risk” (CMR) for the project by August, subject to the approval of the library board and Falls Church City Council.

Clarity on cost estimates will follow that choice, to involve the input from the new CMR. So far, the project has only an architect, the firm of BKV, and the estimates have been very preliminary.

Gernand said of the library board, “We’re hoping he or she (the CMR) will be able to shed additional light on what’s possible with our $8.3 million. Certainly, what we told the public, based on earlier cost estimates, no longer is…To say we’re dismayed is an understatement.”

But Carroll said she’s confident that with the renovation and expansion, the library “will serve the community with improved infrastructure, ADA compliance and space.”

Actual construction will not begin for a full year, she pointed out. Once the CMR is chosen and approved, “we will move forward in the design and cost estimation process, to include community engagement.”

Indeed, she told the News-Press, the engagement of stakeholders, the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals and public input to the design process, will be thorough.

Gernand, who is co-author of a history of Falls Church, “Falls Church: A Virginia Village Revisited” (Donning Company, 2000), said that if cost estimates go much higher, “Our options appear to be either renovating our existing building to replace the circa-1968 elevator, electrical system, plumbing and failing environmental control units, and stopping there with no addition built, or renovating our existing building, adding a tiny addition, such a money allows.”