Work on New Salt Lake Museum is Slow to Begin

Work on New Salt Lake Museum is Slow to Begin

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioA new museum has been in the planning stages for several years in Salt Lake City, but no actual work has been done on the building that will house it. So what's the hold-up?

The building that used to house the downtown Salt Lake City Library looks, well, abandoned. Developers say it's going to look a lot different when it's converted into the city's new science and technology center.

The center's executive director, Mary Tull, said, "Because there are labs, and there are workshops, and there are studios and classrooms, visitors will come in and actually work on projects, as well as view exhibits."

The new center will be called the Leonardo. Tull says the center will hold science exhibits as well as the arts. They had a $10 million bond to renovate the building, but that money isn't enough anymore.

"Construction costs and the escalation of those costs are astronomical here in Utah; in fact, we're the highest in the nation right now. You add it all together and the $10 million should have been $17 million today," Tull said.

People on both sides of the political aisle say the project, as a whole, would have been cheaper had it been finished earlier. What is taking so long? Mayor Rocky Anderson says some city council members are dragging their feet.

"Every month that we delay, it's going to eventually cost significantly more money, and we're losing the opportunities to get it done," Mayor Anderson said.

Recently, the council approved $2.5 million to go to the project, and about half of that came from a grant from FEMA. However, Anderson says it's not good enough.

"They're piece-mealing this. They're saying, ‘OK, we'll appropriate enough to take care of the FEMA grant,' but it's still not getting the building built," he said.

Anderson says if the city had asked the voters to approve the entire project, he feels they would have. However, City Council Chairman Van Blair Turner says the council isn't necessarily against the project; it's just trying to be safe with taxpayer money.

"We don't want to get into a project that, in the long run, might not be sustainable and that we would have to put taxpayers' money into it, perhaps indefinitely, to keep it going," he explained.

Turner says there have been additional demands on renovations that weren't considered back in 2001.

"We're trying to make all of our projects, as we say, more green," he said.

Plus, he says, they want to coordinate construction with exhibits so they don't have a finished building with nothing to put in it. For now, the old library remains mostly unused with a broken sign that reads, "Sal Lake City Public Library."

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