GARY | The city’s Public Library Board put the brakes on any new renovations at the shuttered main library branch, which was on its way to becoming the South Shore Cultural Center and Museum.
After the board voted to pay $471,475 for exterior work performed by Garriup Construction, the board shut the project down.
Controversy has erupted among Gary residents over the closure of the library earlier this year, apparently over a lack of operating funds, and the subsequent plan to convert the building to a museum.
Previous Library Board meetings have been packed with residents asking that the library at Adams Street and 5th Avenue be re-established and to forgo the cultural center plans.
Former Library Board President Ben Coleman told the board Thursday the building renovation project lacked transparency and needed better financial checks and balance. Most board members agreed.
“This doesn’t smell right,” said board member Paula Nauls, making a motion that passed 4-0 to stop work at the building.
Saying the full contract with Garriup should be honored, members Rayfield Fisher and Jonathan Boose abstained from the vote.
As it stands, 85 percent of the exterior work is complete, as Garriup would be owed another $51,000 if it is allowed to continue. However, the total cost of the renovation stands at $3.2 million. Although the exterior is close to being complete, the inside of the building is essentially gutted.
While Fisher said the renovation was a “one-time deal,” board member Mary Ann Redus questioned how the city could sustain operations of the proposed cultural center and museum in light of financial troubles that caused the library branch’s closure in the first place.
“I still want the library,” board member Sadie Sheffield said.
The board plans to study the issue, as Library Board President Nancy Valentime called for a meeting today with the project’s architect and a subsequent meeting with Garriup.