Construction on the historic Canton Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, located at S. Ellwood and O’Donnell avenues, has stalled, but interested community members continue to raise money for the re-opening of the historic building.
Martin Courtney, spokesperson for the city’s General Services Department, confirmed that The Michael Group, the contractor originally chosen for the renovation, has been released from the contract.
The conflict reportedly originated when extensive termite damage to the building was discovered, after The Michael Group’s bid had been submitted.
“The termite damage required a redesign of the proposed work,” wrote Courtney in an email. He added that the discovery caused a delay in the issuance of the “notice to proceed” to The Michael Group.
“The city and The Michael Group disagreed over the delay and potential change orders to the contract,” wrote Courtney. “After much discussion, both The Michael Group and the city decided not to proceed with [the contract for the library renovation.]”
A call to The Michael Group requesting comment was not returned.
Courtney went on to say that an architect has redone both the plans and the specifications for a new request for proposals. The city is now in the process of reviewing those modifications, he wrote. When that review is complete, the city will ask for bids all over again.
Currently, the library is boarded up and no work is being done on the building.
“We were really very frustrated with the whole thing,” said Pat Costello, Chief of Neighborhood Services for Pratt Library, “but the bottom-line is that we want the building to open, to be in great shape, and to be available for the community’s use.”
Costello noted that when it re-opens, the Canton branch will be the only branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library that is housed in one of Enoch Pratt’s original buildings. It first opened in 1886.
“If the process turns out with a great product at the end, that’s what we’re all hoping for,” Costello said.
Costello reported that the original request for proposals had assumed that the building’s original floor could be kept, but that during asbestos removal and termite eradication, “they found that there was a lot more damage than they realized.”
In the meantime, community members are continuing their efforts to re-open a fully equipped library. At a fund-raising party held last Thursday night at Canton’s Natty Boh Tower, the Friends of Canton Library netted nearly $50,000.
“The event was a tremendous success,” said Shelly Terranova, Annual Fund Director for the Enoch Pratt Free Library. “About 200 people came out. It was a mix of Canton residents, neighbors and folks who have been invested in this library for a long time.”
Sponsors included Safeway and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.
Carol Nickerson, Secretary of the Friends of Canton Library, added that local sponsors, such as restaurants Mama’s on the Half Shell and Plug Ugly’s Publick House, as well as the Chesapeake Wine Company and others, also contributed to the event.
“We were at capacity,” Nickerson said. “I think it was the best party I’ve been to this year.”
Terranova noted that the Pratt Library is a “quasi city” organization. While city funds pay for construction costs such as renovations to branches, “private funds pay for a lot of the programs that people think of when they think of the library,” she said.
Nickerson said that the funds earned at last week’s fund-raiser will likely go toward wireless internet service and new computers.
The Canton Library closed for renovations on January 28, 2012. The renovation was originally supposed to last a total of 540 days, noted Costello.
Terranova said that the 21 branches of the Pratt Library receive a total of about two million visitors per year.
by Erik Zygmont