The priority of the D.C. Board of Library Trustees is to produce a world-class library, not to extend an architect's legacy, as Alexander Padro would have it do ["The Last Checkout?" Close to Home, Jan. 19]. The library has sound reasons to explore building a new central library on the redeveloped Washington Convention Center site.
Despite the impression given by Padro, nearly every member of the board prefers a new central library on the redeveloped convention center site over renovation of the Martin Luther King Jr. building. New construction not only would avoid the financial and physical hardships of renovation -- which Padro didn't mention -- but also could be less costly in the long run.
Renovating the present library would take two to three years. To operate during that time, the library would have to lease at least 200,000 square feet of prime city space meeting its specifications. More than 874,000 books and materials, 4,500 historic and antique maps and 1 million photographs, plus equipment ranging from shelves to computers, would have to be moved twice. The Ludwig Mies van der Rohe building has deteriorated so much that it would have to be gutted.
Constructing a new building would allow the current central library to remain open until the new facility was completed. Library contents would need to be moved only once, minimzing the potential for damage or loss.
Further, a new central library is projected to be 350,000 square feet, not 200,000 square feet, as Padro stated. The current library is 400,000-plus square feet, but the space is used inefficiently. Moving into a slightly smaller but more efficient structure would enable employees to deliver better service.
True, preliminary estimates of the cost of a new building are higher than those of a renovation -- construction is estimated to cost between $120 million and $140 million, and renovation would cost about two-thirds that much. But Padro's calculations did not include the reuse value of the current library building, which is located on one of the most desirable sites downtown. Surely, part of the additional cost of new construction could be covered by whatever use the District decided to make of the building.
Finally, a new central library could truly be a monument to King and not an afterthought. Padro erred when he wrote that the present library was built in King's honor. It was largely completed before the trustees voted in 1971 to name it after the slain civil rights leader. Trustees already have adopted a resolution stating that any new central library would be named the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.
Others can champion the preservation of an architecturally significant building, but that is not the library board's mission. Its job is to create a world-class library.
-- Marie Harris Aldridge
is president of the D.C.
Public Library Board of Trustees.