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Library renovation, reopening projects get boost from unexpected COVID-19 relief funds

Library building under construction
Jacob Munoz
Louisville Free Public Library director Lee Burchfield said the Parkland branch is expected to be reopened by early 2025.

Louisville Metro Council has allocated millions in federal funds toward library renovation and reopening projects and delayed park maintenance. The money became available after the city canceled a $40 million workforce contract.

Metro Council members approved the American Rescue Plan Act spending last week in a near-unanimous vote, weeks after Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg announced he had terminated support for a health care workforce project, following an ethics scandal involving a council member.

More than half the $40 million is now set aside for four public libraries — renovating some branches and building a new one — and deferred parks projects across the city.

Last year, city lawmakers allocated more than $14.5 million in ARP funds for the libraries. But Lee Burchfield, director of the Louisville Free Public Library, said Tuesday that project estimates have become more expensive since then due to construction.

“We already had increased what we were anticipating them to cost from our original cost projections, from like three years ago,” Burchfield said. “But when the bids came back, they were even higher than those increased estimates.”

Burchfield said he previously estimated that renovating the Parkland and Portland libraries could be finished by the end of this year. However, those expectations were too optimistic, he said, and the bidding and design processes have taken longer than anticipated.

He said the renovated Parkland and Portland libraries are now projected to open in early 2025, and that the Portland expansion is increasing by about 1,500 square feet. Burchfield noted that the two branches are in historically-disinvested neighborhoods in west Louisville.

“For both Parkland and Portland, this is going to completely change the experience that people in those neighborhoods have when they come to their local library,” Burchfield said.

He added that he expects work on the Main Library and the new Fern Creek location to be finished by the end of 2025.

The Louisville Free Public Library Foundation has also committed to raising $5 million for the projects, which would leave around $4.7 million in unmet funding needs.

A woman speaks at a lectern. A group of people stand behind her and listen.
Jacob Munoz
Metro Council member Tammy Hawkins, a District 1 Democrat, speaks at a press conference at the closed Parkland Library on Dec. 19, 2023.

Construction workers were working at the closed Parkland Library on Tuesday, as city officials and leaders gathered to celebrate the new Metro Council funding.

At the event, Mayor Craig Greenberg said the reallocated funding supported goals that work together. The remaining $15 million went toward workforce and personal finance projects led by nonprofits.

“Today is a wonderful day, because we are celebrating this historic investment,” Greenberg said, adding it would encourage “businesses [to] want to locate in Louisville, because we have great parks and great libraries and other great amenities that make it a great place to live.”

Jason Canuel, director of Louisville Metro’s Parks department, thanked the mayor and city officials in a press release.

“Each of these projects is vitally important to those who use our parks and community centers every single day,” Canuel said.

Groups using any ARP funds are required to spend them by the end of 2026.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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