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Pasadena’s Retrofitted Central Library Should Last ‘100 years,’ Say Consultants

Earthquake repair project team emphasizes safety and historical significance in public meeting

Published on Friday, September 22, 2023 | 5:52 am

Audience members listen attentively as consultants from Gruen Associates and their sub-contractors describe the Central Library Earthquake Retrofit and Building Repairs Project during a community meeting in Pasadena on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. [Eddie Rivera/Pasadena Now]
A member of the consultant team hired by Pasadena to create plans for the Central Library Earthquake Retrofit and Building Repairs Project said Thursday that the goal of the retrofit project is to have the 100-year-old building “last another 100 years.”

The final costs of retrofitting the 1927 Pasadena Central Library could be $175 to $195 million before the project is completed in 2028, according to the team of consultants from Gruen Associates, in their community presentation on the project at the Robinson Park Recreation Center on Thursday evening.

The project’s funding could require a bond measure on the November 2024 ballot.

The community meeting was part of the project’s ongoing outreach by representatives of the team.

Debra Gerod of Gruen posed then answered a fundamental question.

“What does the community want to accomplish for this project? What does the City want? This was obviously spurred by a need to seismically repair the unreinforced masonry … so that was obviously the main driver, but it wasn’t the only driver. This is a treasured historic building in the city of Pasadena. 

“And it was very important that we understand and preserve it as a historic asset to the city,” she continued. 

Gerod emphasized that whatever the project team does, the Library should maintain its historic listing and its historic essence.

She said that the retrofit needs to include accessibility measures.

“When we’re going through a major project like this, it is incumbent on us to make this accessible. We need to allow people with mobility challenges to be and make it into the building and experience the building in the same way that someone who doesn’t have a mobility challenge.”

John Locascio, of the Historic Resources Group, also explained the building’s historical significance, noting that the Central Library is the northern terminus of the Bennett Plan for the Civic Center, the City’s first General Plan, and is one of the three anchors of the Civic Center, and the first to be completed. 

Structural engineer Aldrin Orue of the retrofit team said that the project would meet the nationally recognized American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Seismic Rehabilitation Standards.

“There’s very important historic significance here,” said Orue, “and we definitely want to be careful on the solutions that we implement so as not to disturb any of the historic characteristics of the building.”

“Beyond code compliance,” said Orue, “we also want to enhance the performance of the building to minimize future recovery time in an earthquake. One of the goals of the City when we first started this is that they want to keep this building for another  hundred years, it’s been here a hundred years, and they want this to last for a hundred years.”

Orue added that, “The seismic proportional objective that we are now targeting is one that’s equivalent to a new library building. We weren’t satisfied to just provide the minimum code requirement, but the goal and the objective is to have this building perform in a seismic event equivalent to a new building.”

The original building was designed by the architectural firm of Hunt and Chambers, with Myron Hunt being one of the most important architects to practice in southern California in the first half of the 20th century. 

Hunt designed the Rose Bowl, the original Huntington Hotel, the Huntington Mansion Library, and Locascio noted that “his work is definitely considered the work of a master.”

The Pasadena City Council approved a contract to begin the process of seismically retrofitting and upgrading the Central Library in February 2023,  to Gruen Associates and their team of sub-consultants. 

Gruen will create environmental documentation, as well as final construction drawings and cost estimates for construction. Initial environmental and design phase efforts will be done in March 2023, and are anticipated to be completed in about two years. 

The current design phase of the Central Library Retrofit and Repair project is fully funded to allow the city to determine the estimated total cost of the work to be done. Assemblymember Chris Holden secured $4 million in funding through a grant from the state library system in June 2021, and in July 2022, the state earmarked an additional 5 million to the earthquake retrofit and repairs project bringing the total to $9 million to be used towards the central library design work.

The Central Library building, a significant contributor to the Civic Center Historic District, is recognized on both the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources. In addition to its contribution to the district, it holds individual distinction as a designated Pasadena Landmark.

The first plan and cost estimate for the project is expected to be completed in the fall of this year, while the design development plans and its cost estimate are expected to be completed in early 2024. In the spring of 2025, all plans and plan checks are expected to be completed, and a final bid and construction contract reward– pending construction funding – should be completed in summer of 2025.

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