Amid opening of new Moorestown Library, razing of old one proposed

Posted: July 09, 2014

Just 13 hours before Moorestown's new library was due to open its doors to the public, the township's consulting architect, Rick Ragan, recommended to the township council that it demolish the former library.

Speaking Monday before the council's regular monthly meeting, Ragan said it would cost about $3.4 million to bring the massively built concrete structure up to modern construction code - even before the building would be modified for some new purpose.

"In all likelihood, the cost of rehabilitating and modernizing it would exceed the cost of replacing it," Ragan, of Ragan Design Group of Medford, told the council.

"Our recommendation," he said at the close of his presentation, "is that it remain standing" until the contents of numerous file boxes can be digitized, "and then we recommend the demolishing of the building" in a way that does not affect the new library and town hall nearby.

All members of the council, as well as Township Manager Scott Carew, indicated that they agreed with Ragan's recommendation, but the council took no formal action. There were no objections from the audience.

Starting last month, the library's collection was moved from the old building to the new, 26,000-square-foot building at 111 W. Second St., about 75 yards away. Its opening had been delayed for several weeks by numerous small glitches, library director Joe Galbraith said earlier Monday.

Just before noon, however, he received a certificate of occupancy. The new library will be open to the public starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

In a conversation last year, Galbraith described the old building, designed by the Cherry Hill architect Malcolm Wells, as a quirky, 37,000-square-foot "bunker" of reinforced concrete whose 18-inch-thick walls and floors made it very difficult to adapt for computers, WiFi, and other modern technologies.

Opened in 1974, the building was also plagued by leaks, mold, and water damage, unintended consequences of Wells' efforts to create a green building that used rainwater pools for cooling.

The building was also shaded by pine trees whose needles clogged drains, and was enclosed by vines that worked their way under its slate roof tiles, which Ragan noted Monday proved very expensive to repair.

Wells, who was widely esteemed for his residential architecture, died in 2009.

In 2012, the council approved construction of a 46,000-square-foot town hall and library in one building on the site of the former town hall. That building, also designed by Wells, was damaged by fire in 2007 and razed last year.

Most municipal offices, which had been scattered around the town since the fire, moved without fanfare in April into the building.

Ragan said his firm had analyzed several ideas for possible reuse of the old library, including as a police station and courthouse, performing arts center, or retail or office space, and concluded all were prohibitively expensive and would need more parking than the surrounding space allowed.

Council members agreed informally Monday to schedule a formal dedication of the new buildings after Labor Day.

doreilly@phillynews.com856-779-3841 doreillyinq

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