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Lawmakers, Librarians Take Renewed Look At Renovating D.C.'s Central Library

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There is optimism that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in D.C. can be fixed, instead of abandoned.
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There is optimism that the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in D.C. can be fixed, instead of abandoned.

D.C. lawmakers continue to weigh the costs of massive renovations to the District's flagship public library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown D.C.

The price tag for upgrading the library has been pegged as high as $250 million.

D.C. has been studying whether the library should go through extensive renovations or whether it makes more sense to sell the property and move the central library to a new location.

"I began this process as a skeptic," says Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper, testifying at the D.C. Council on Thursday about the issue. "After more than six years of working in that building, I am all too familiar with the uneven HVAC system, the out-of-date elevators and the extremely high energy consumption of the building."

But Cooper says she has been pleasantly surprised by how architects and others have proposed revamping the library so that it's not merely adequate, but a world-class, state-of-the art institution.

Council Member Tommy Wells, who has oversight over D.C.'s library system, chaired today's public round table. He says that, while the city has done an excellent job of modernizing many of the neighborhood libraries, it has ignored the city's central library for far too long.

"The continuing costs of maintaining MLK have not gone away, and we can no longer put off the conversation," says Wells. "Our downtown central library must be as inspiring as our new branch libraries."

The city is expected to continue studying the issue before any final decisions on the central library are made.

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