The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Good news for library lovers: New downtown library looks in the offing; and plan is for library to open a temporary downtown space by June

In Cedar Rapids Library Board, FEMA, Floods on March 19, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Library lovers had a good week in Cedar Rapids.

On Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency confirmed that the library board and city officials were right: The downtown library took a tougher hit from the June 2008 flood than FEMA first has suggested. In fact, the flood caused extensive enough damage -– equal to 58 percent of the library’s value -– that FEMA now will support the building of a new library.

The library board must ask FEMA now for approval to build in a new location, which Susan Corrigan, the president of the nine-member library board, said she favors.

Many library supporters, Corrigan noted, have a strong affection for the existing library building on First Street SE, but she said she doesn’t want a library at that spot to go through a devastating flood again. And she said that has been the sentiment of the library board.

A second piece of good news for the library this week is the way Iowa Sens. Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley and Congressman Dave Loebsack came to the library’s defense. The three elected officials fired off letters to FEMA protesting the agency’s decision not to pay the library for expenses related to the library’s temporary operation at Westdale Mall.

A FEMA spokesman in Cedar Rapids on Thursday noted that the FEMA decision has been appealed.

The library board’s Corrigan cautioned this week that FEMA’s favorable damage assessment on the downtown library does not mean that a new library will be going up any time soon. It took nine months to convince FEMA to see the library’s damage the way the library board and City Hall saw it, and it will take more time to wade through the FEMA funding process before a new library is ever built, she said.

Corrigan said the new damage finding at the library clears the way to build new on the existing site, but the library board will have to make a request for permission to build on a new site.

With much negotiation yet to come, Corrigan had another piece of good news. She reported that the library board will open a temporary library in the downtown, likely by June.

The location will be in a space formerly occupied by the Art Cellar Co., 221 Third St. SE. She said the interim library operation there would be similar to the library’s Westdale Mall branch before the library expanded there after the flood.

  1. I, for one, lament the passing of the Library as it was built in the 80’s. It is one of the few good examples of brutalist or pseudo-brutalist architecture left in the city, and it would be a shame to see it torn down and replaced with something that is likely to resemble the GreatAmerica building.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the GA building or against glass-and-steel buildings in general; I think they’re beautiful and modern. But the intense planning, innovation, and labor that went into designing and building the concrete structure that used to be the Library is something that should be honored and remembered. Maybe they can save the central concrete staircase and use it as an entrance to the new building, as any occupied spaces in the new building will have to be built at least one foot above the 2008 flood level.

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