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RAD board funds library renovations

Thursday, January 31, 2002

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Carnegie Library branches in Homewood, Brookline and three other city neighborhoods will be renovated over the next three years, thanks to action by the Allegheny Regional Asset District last night.

The RAD board voted 6-1 to provide $1 million a year over the next 25 years which the Carnegie Library system will use for the renovations. The $1 million will be part of the approximately $15 million the library system gets from RAD annually for its operations.

The RAD action was necessary so library officials could float a $15 million bond issue, possibly by spring. The money will pay for the renovations to the five neighborhood branches plus modernization of the first floor of the main library in Oakland, including the addition of a coffee shop.

Library Director Herb Elish said he expects improvements to the Homewood and Brookline branches to begin this fall. Work will begin in the spring of 2003 at the Squirrel Hill, Woods Run and West End branches.

The West End work could involve construction of an entirely new building to house the library, with the existing, historic building on Wabash Avenue being converted to a new use, he said.

Later this year, the Carnegie system hopes to conduct a $25 million capital campaign to pay for additional renovations to other buildings in its 18-branch system.

And that's not all, Elish said. Ultimately, the library system would like to raise as much as $39 million more from public and private sources to meet the architectural cost estimates for modernizing the entire system.

That includes making the buildings -- some of which are 100 years old -- fully accessible to handicapped people, adding new chairs and other furnishings, enhancing community meeting rooms in the libraries and upgrading the heating and air conditioning systems.

The Carnegie Library system is one of nine large city or county assets that have 10-year agreements for RAD funding. Those agreements started when RAD came into being in 1995 but will end in 2004.

In order to borrow money long-term through bonds, the Carnegie system had to be assured of 25-year funding from the RAD. The 6-1 vote was the minimum support needed for approval under RAD rules.

Gerald Voros was the lone opponent, saying the action could set a bad precedent where operational funds of an organization were used for capital improvement purposes.

RAD funds are being used to pay off two other bond issues -- $13.4 million a year in debt service on bonds sold to build the two new stadiums and $3.2 million a year to pay for improvements to Mellon Arena.

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