by Mike Sharkey
It may not look like it, but demolition work at the site of the new downtown library has been going on for several days. Like many other downtown projects that involve the removal or renovation of older buildings, much of the initial work has to be done behind the scenes.
Since last week, workers have been proceeding with one of the project’s most tedious and potentially dangerous aspects: asbestos abatement. Before any major demolition on the LaRose and Rhodes buildings can begin, the fibrous silicate that was a popular ingredient in insulation material in the first half of the 20th Century must be removed. Once that stage is completed, the rest of the demolition will ensue.
(Asbestos has been proven to cause a multitude of health problems and, even at an advanced age, can present clean-up crews with problems through overexposure.)
“After the asbestos abatement we put up scaffolding at the LaRose buildings and salvage the historical elements within the design by [architect Robert A.M.] Stern,” said Heather Surface, acting press secretary for Mayor John Delaney. “Salvage work should begin by the first week of July. With the asbestos work, you will not see much going on.”
The new $95 million downtown library is one of four vertical projects in the downtown area within the $2.2 billion Better Jacksonville Plan. The $130 million arena and $34 million ball park at the sports complex near Alltel Stadium are both out of the ground and an all-day public workshop showcasing the four designs for the $211 million county courthouse is scheduled for today at the University of North Florida.
The several-week long process won’t be all smash and dash. In an agreement to appease the Historical Preservation Society, the City will salvage some of the facades of the two LaRose buildings and the cornice work from the Rhodes building.
“That same week the building on the site of the parking garage goes down,” said Surface. “Demolition of the other two main buildings will be sometime in the third week of July and we will prepare the Rhodes Building for implosion, which will be in late July or early August.”
Surface said an exact date for the implosion hasn’t been determined, but chances are it will be a weekend day when traffic downtown is minimal. However, the demolition work and some of the early construction will create a traffic flow problem in the area for a few weeks. The new library will be bordered by Main, Duval, Laura and Monroe streets. The traffic issue is currently being addressed.
“We will send out a media advisory on what streets will be closed,” said Surface. “It will affect traffic flow.”
Originally scheduled for completion in May 2003, the library will open in late 2004. Plans are, though, for Delaney to host a dedication ceremony next summer, shortly before he leaves office on June 30.