£50m rebuild for Liverpool's Central Library
MAY 16 2008 BY NICK COLIGAN, LIVERPOOL ECHO
A MULTI-MILLION pound plan to transform Liverpool’s historic Central Library was unveiled today.
The £50m scheme replaces a stalled proposal to extensively refurbish the 158-year-old building.
Council officials struggled to find builders prepared to undertake the complicated task of remodelling the grade II*-listed library leaving the scheme in limbo.
Now they have gone back to the drawing board and come up with a project which will mean much of the city centre premises being demolished and rebuilt, instead of just being renovated.
Extensions at the back of the library, built in the 1950s and 1970s, will be bulldozed and replaced with modern reading, lending, computing and audio areas.
The city’s priceless archives will be moved into a purpose-built genealogy centre, called Liverpool Memories, making it more accessible than ever.
The picturesque Picton reading room and mothballed international library will be refurbished to make them fit for the 21st century.
Some £8m will now be spent on that part of the project, twice as much as the original scheme.
Liverpool council will now start searching for a developer to do the work this summer.
If everything goes to plan the project will start in 2010 and finish two years later.
The council’s head of libraries Joyce Little said: “Many improvements were made over the years.
“But they were piecemeal and the time is right for a major redevelopment.
“The library developed in a series of interlinked buildings and different floors which make life difficult for staff and visitors.
“We do what we can to ensure the best public access and presentation possible.
“But the building itself is not conducive to a 21st century library.”
The council revealed its original plan for Central Library almost three years ago after the government agreed £50m funding via a private finance initiative (PFI).
That means a developer will fund the scheme and the council will pay back the money over several years, using government funds.
The new project will be paid for in the same way.
Councillors are expected to meet within the next few weeks to agree to launch the Europe-wide search for a construction company.
Ms Little was confident the simplified plans would prove more attractive to private firms.
She said: “We have not changed the type of services at Central Library.
“It is just the type of building which has changed.”
Why bidders were put off
IF the council’s original plan had worked Central Library would have closed for refurbishment during Capital of Culture year.
But problems quickly surfaced when officials starting searching for a developer to carry out the renovation work.
PFI rules mean at least two firms must compete for the contract. Although two companies put in bids, one dropped out and a replacement could not be found.
Library officials believe the project’s complexity deterred firms from coming forward.
The council held long discussions with the government about whether the plan could proceed with the remaining bidder but was turned down.
But the money is still on the table.