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Pasadena City Council Awards Central Library Seismic Retrofit and Renovations Project Design Contract

Published on Monday, February 6, 2023 | 6:54 pm
Pasadena Central Library photo courtesy City of Pasadena

The Pasadena City Council on Monday evening approved a contract that will move forward and begin the process of seismically retrofitting and renovating the currently-closed Pasadena Central Library.

The contract for professional design services — totaling more than $6 million — was awarded to Gruen Associates and their team of sub-consultants.

Gruen will prepare environmental documentation, final construction drawings and cost estimates for the construction of the retrofitting.

The contract is for an amount not-to-exceed $6,104,109, which includes a base contract amount of $5,779,109 and a contingency of $325,000. 

The retrofit and renovation project is a crucial step towards ensuring the safety of the city’s central library and its patrons during seismic events. With the contract awarded, the city of Pasadena can move forward with the process of upgrading the library to meet modern standards.

With the contract awarded, environmental and design phase efforts will be initiated in March 2023 and are anticipated to be completed in approximately two years. This phase will also allow the City to determine the estimated total cost of the work to be done. A public outreach effort will also be initiated to provide updates and collect public feedback. The process also includes an advisory review of the retrofit design alternatives by the Technical Oversight Committee, Historic Preservation Commission, and the Public Safety Committee.

With Central Library approaching its centennial birthday in 2027, an assessment of the building’s condition and its various systems was completed in 2020. The project provided a general assessment of the various building systems including the mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and roof, and design of a new fire alarm and fire sprinkler system. The inspection discovered that the building consists of an unreinforced masonry structure, with walls that are not fastened to the building’s foundation, nor to the reinforced concrete floor beams and the timber roof they support. As such, a preliminary structural analysis of the building was completed in April 2021 revealing that the building does not meet the recommended structural performance objectives in a seismic event.

On May 3, 2021, City officials were forced to close the Central Library for a required seismic retrofit and restoration to meet life safety requirements.

The City quickly moved towards identifying a plan for seismic upgrades, restoration, and reopening of the facility, including reaching out to Assemblymember Chris Holden. Just one month later, on June 29, 2021, the state approved in its budget $4 million to be used to pay for the design and drawings for the seismic upgrades of the Central Library. A year later, the state approved an additional $5 million dollars for the Central Library Retrofit Project with the support of Assemblymember Holden.

In November 2021, the Department of Public Works issued a Request for Proposals for the preparation of the environmental document and architectural and engineering design services for the seismic retrofit. A competitive process was initiated to identify the best-qualified design team made up of experienced engineers, architects, and historic preservation specialists that ultimately recommended Gruen Associates.

With the Central Library having served as an educational and cultural hub in Pasadena for almost 100 years, the City established a Community Programming Committee to evaluate how the Central Library space can be reimagined to enhance the library’s capacity and services, taking into consideration current and future programming needs of the community. Comprised of community leaders with backgrounds in non-profit organizations, library operations, historic preservation, and media, they began meeting in September of 2022.

In October 2022, Mayor Victor Gordo appointed a technical oversight committee to review key findings and recommend design solutions at key milestones, as well as provide feedback to the project team and updates to City Council. Committee members included professionals and educators with backgrounds in architecture, structural engineering, seismology, and historic preservation, representing Pasadena Heritage, Caltech, American Institute of Architects (AIA), and others. On November 15, 2022, they held their kick-off meeting and on December 14, 2022, reported back their findings.

Upon review of the retrofit design alternatives by the Technical Oversight Committee, Historic Preservation Commission, and the Public Safety Committee, Public Works staff will return to City Council in Fall 2023 with a recommendation to approve a specific retrofit design.

Concurrent with design efforts, the City will continue to pursue funding opportunities for the construction phase of the project with the goal of securing all funding by the completion of the design phase. Pending appropriation of funds, construction is anticipated to begin in Summer 2025 and last approximately 30 to 36 months.

With these initial funds secured, and now contract awarded, the City will have a design team of experts that will bring the iconic Central Library back online to ensure access to library services and programs for future generations, and to preserve the historical features of the Central Library building.

The Central Library will be 100 years old on February 12, 2027.

For more information on the Central Library, please visit

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