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Engineer Says Closed Pasadena Central Library Can Be Retrofitted

So far, city does not know how much it will cost to renovate historic structure

Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 | 10:28 am
(Image courtesy City of Pasadena)

The City Council received some good news Wednesday from City Manager Steve Mermell regarding the now-closed Central Library.

During Monday’s council meeting, Mermell told members a structural engineer has already performed an analysis of the building, which was abruptly shut down last week due seismic safety concerns.

“The good news is the building can be retrofitted,” Mermell told the council during a discussion of the city’s budget for capital improvement projects.

Under a retrofit, the building would be updated to meet seismic building code amendments per a 1993 ordinance that require masonry buildings to meet specific standards.

Mermell said the city will be requesting a peer review to look at the analysis performed by the engineering firm and expects to have that done in a few weeks.

During Monday’s discussion, Mermell said an unfunded $30 million library improvement project became a placeholder for a revised project that would include a seismic upgrade and retrofit.

The library improvement project already included building system upgrades and replacements including a fire alarm system and a new fire sprinkler system; roof replacement; replacement of domestic, sanitary, and stormwater piping systems; replacement of mechanical heating and cooling systems, including ductwork, electrical upgrades, seismic structural upgrades; and improvements to the exterior courtyard.

“This was before we discovered the building was not reinforced,” Public Works Department Director Ara Maloya said about the $30 million project. “ Obviously, we are doing an assessment. We will have cost estimates on what it will entail to reinforce the building.”

A price tag for the revised project was not proposed on Monday. Meanwhile, Public Works is examining other city buildings to make sure they meet the current standards.

Last week, the city revealed that the historic Pasadena Central Library was ordered to close until further notice due to its construction with unreinforced masonry.

“The purpose of this notice is to make you aware of the dangerous condition present therein,” wrote city Building Official Sarkis Nazerian in his ‘Not To Occupy Building’ order.
The recent structural assessment conducted as part of the scope of work for the Central Library Building Systems and Structural Assessment Capital Improvement Project revealed that most of the building is comprised of unreinforced masonry (URM) bearing walls that support concrete floors and walls.

URM buildings have been widely recognized as a hazard to life safety due to their potential to collapse during an earthquake. Pasadena passed an ordinance in 1993 mandating all URM buildings to be retrofitted, vacated or demolished.
In 2003, the City Council approved a plan for the seismic retrofit, historic restoration and infrastructure improvements of City Hall. The retrofit cost $117 million.

Seismic retrofit of thay building included the installation of structural base isolators that now allow the building to withstand future earthquake activity.

No record has been found as to why Central Library was not identified and addressed as a URM building, according to the city.

The Central Library was designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt in 1924, and was the first building completed in Pasadena’s historic Civic Center Plan. The library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Civic Center District was developed using the Bennett Plan, named after Edward H. Bennett of the Chicago architecture firm Bennett, Parsons and Frost. The plan centralized the city’s most important civic institutions within a single district where streets terminate at the most important buildings — City Hall to the east, the Central Library to the north and the Civic Auditorium, located to the south on Green Street. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

“We will report back to the City Council on what it will take to retrofit the building,” Mermell said.

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