independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

Back off the shelf - Wexford's new library

SAOIRSE McGARRIGLE

IT'S been a rocky road but there's finally some light on the horizon in the sorry tale of Wexford's new library, the striking steel and glass structure on a landmark site in Mallin Street. Few could see a happy ending to the saga when work on the development came to an abrupt halt last November as a receiver was appointed to construction giants McNamama.

The gates were locked and silence descended on the site, leaving an ugly monument to lost jobs, and fading hopes of a modern, purpose-built library space in the county town.

Now, things are looking up. In August, Wexford County Council issued a tender notice for a new construction company to complete the work left unfinished by McNamara, and the builders are expected back on site in November.

The new library was the subject of some controversy even before the builders went to the wall. Its locations, directly adjacent to a national monument, Wexford's old town wall, did upset some groups and individuals who feel that such a modern building will look out of place against the backdrop of this historic feature.

However, Matt O'Connor, former CEO of the National Building Agency, believes that locating the library in Mallin Street is a far more appropriate use of the site, which was previously a car park. ' To leave it as a car park would, in urban design terms, be a disaster,' he says.

O'Connor also disagrees with critics of the build who say a vacant track should have been maintained along the inside of the old town wall. He says there is no need for this because the traditional viewing point of a town wall is from the exterior. Locating the library just inside the town wall means that when one stands and observes the wall from outside there is an appreciation of the fact that the wall acts as a boundary enclosing the various buildings that stand within the town.

Matt O'Connor commends the move by local authority officials to locate the new library at the epicentre of what he terms a ' cultural spine', which has the Opera House and Selskar Abbey at either end, with the new library and the Art Centre forming the core. O'Connor feels that it is most crucial that some of the most important sites for the Arts and culture are found located in a linear format, parallel to the main street.

Wexford County Council tender notice for a new construction company to complete the work left unfinished by Michael McNamara stipulated 'remedial/rectification works and structural completion'. Bidding for the contract is open to all, including local contractors, but the successful company must demonstrate 'evidence of ability to obtain a surety bond to the value of 25% of the contract sum'.

Wexford County Council's Director of Services, Adrian Doyle, explains that the bond covers costs incurred when McNamara went into liquidation whilst in the middle of the build. Similarly the company that replaces McNamara is required to have a minimum annual turnover of €5 million. This clause is in place to ensure that only solvent companies will be considered for the contract. However, in such uncertain economic times it is impossible to guarantee that any company will not meet the unfortunate fate of that of McNamara.

Wexford County Council has received a number of tenders to date and it is hoped that the contract will be awarded to a competent contractor within weeks. Work is expected to resume in November with a view to the library being ready for opening at the end of 2012.

In the meantime however, the library continues to operate from its temporary premises in the McCauley's car park off Redmond Square, with the Archives and Local Studies section is based in Ardcavan.

Despite the sheer volume of resources available at the library, it is most difficult for members to gain access to a lot of the information available as the library service is divided between two locations.

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