The budget bill recently approved by the General Assembly contained a piece of good news for the VCU Libraries: authorization for VCU to spend up to $3.4 million on design of a new library building for the Monroe Park Campus.  The budget doesn’t actually allocate any funding, unfortunately, but does allow VCU to move forward using its own funds, with the promise that the State will reimburse VCU for the design effort at some point down the road.

This funding will pay for the design drawings, which will cost an estimated $1.6 million, and perhaps the engineering and construction documents, which add another almost $2 million to the overall design costs.  A Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued on May 4, 2012 to solicit offers from architect/engineering firms for the design of the new library building.  A pre-proposal meeting was held on May 22 for firms interested in submitting a bid, to give them an overview of the proposal and to answer questions.  Associate University Librarians Jeanne Hammer and Dennis Clark and University Librarian John Ulmschneider attended the meeting, which drew a large number of representatives from architecture firms. A number of companies with deep experience in library design were present, as well as some smaller firms and even several high-profile architects – “starchitects” – who have designed widely-admired landmark buildings for VCU and other campuses.

The entire process is on a fast track.  Proposals are due by June 6, with evaluation of proposals throughout June and July.  Because of the size of the contract, the award of the bid requires the approval of the Board of Visitors.  The schedule aims to get the University’s recommendation for an architect/engineering firm to the Board for consideration in its August 2012 meeting.  In addition, by the end of June 2012 the University will hire a construction management firm for the project.

All of this means that actual design work will begin this August 2012. The timeline is aggressive: the University hopes to have much of the design finished by November 2012, enough that the construction management firm can create an accurate construction estimate for the final building.  That estimate will be used by the University to send a funding request for construction to the General Assembly for its spring 2013 session.

We’ll have the final renderings of the building – drawings that show how the building will actually look – by January 2013.

The schedule after this summer and fall depends entirely on whether funding materializes.  The University’s internal schedule continues an aggressive pacing, based on an optimistic scenario for funding.  It projects that the new building will open for use in 2015. There appears to be fair confidence for this optimistic scenario among those most responsible for the University’s construction projects.  It might well turn out that the University’s entering class for fall 2015 will enjoy the first major expansion of library space since the University completed expansions for Cabell and Tompkins-McCaw in 1975, exactly 40 years earlier.

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