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Cracks, leaks at library worry S.L. officials

Cracked paving stones, a leaky roof, crumbling stairs and underground water sloshing up against subterranean parking — to some these are the expected signs of new construction.

To others they could be symptoms of larger problems plaguing an $84 million public project.

Whatever the case, Councilwoman Nancy Saxton wants some answers about the construction-related issues arising at the new City Library downtown, which opened in February 2003.

"We've heard some other suggestions that some other things aren't functioning well (in the new library) and weren't built to specs," she said. "If there are things that weren't done correctly, that aren't finished or need to be repaired, we need to hear about that now."

The worry, Saxton said, is that construction problems will only be under warranty for a short time. The city, then, needs to find problems sooner rather than later so taxpayers won't be left holding the bag. Saxton has asked for the library's original plans and wants an independent reviewer to inspect them to discover if any hidden problems might be brought to light now instead of five years down the road.

Some problems have already arisen, including pavers on the outside plaza cracking and falling apart, city-maintained steps cracking and eroding, underground water seeping up against the library's underground parking and water leaking from the building's glass roof.

While they agree there have been issues, other council members are a bit leery of bringing in an outside contractor to inspect the plans but do favor gaining more information about library problems. One suggestion would be a simple report from the library's administration about known and existing problems and what steps are being taken to alleviate those issues.

"Yeah, there may be some things that aren't working quite right, but certainly you don't want to go on a witch hunt," Councilman Eric Jergensen said. "It's not unusual when a building is built that there are some problems along the way."

Saxton says she does have confidence in both the builder, Big D Construction, and the architect, Moshe Safdie, who maintains an office in Jerusalem.

However, she did raise questions about Safdie's push to use Jerusalem-quarried stone for the library's now crumbling pavers. It's an issue that could be fleshed out more with an independent set of eyes examining the building's plans.

"There may have been some conflict of interest with that," she said. "The architect seemed to have a bit of a personal connection with the pavers."

Library administrators maintain no independent review is needed. For starters, they are in final negotiations with the contractor, architect and the rock quarry to make sure all the cracking pavers are replaced at no expense to taxpayers. If a contract can be finalized, the cracked limestone pavers will be replaced with granite beginning next fall, Salt Lake City Library Systems assistant director Chip Ward said.

Except for a few persistent ones, the leaks are fixed and the issue with underground water was known before the parking was built and will require capital improvement investments in the future.

The library administration also built into its contracts provisions outlining the steps required when construction-issues arose.

They have also been working with Ken Ament, an independent liaison between contractors and clients in big building projects.

"It's a huge facility and there are bound to be lots of little things," Ward said. "We have been handling it as time goes on in a conscientious and judicious way and we continue to do so."


E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com