News Comment

Sunday 21 September 2014

Monstrous waste on a building we don't need

The only thing more obscene than the €36.6m bill for Dun Laoghaire library is its appearance, writes Ian Morris

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

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Construction in Dun Laoghaire in front of the Marine Hotel.
Construction in Dun Laoghaire in front of the Marine Hotel.

THE new library and 'cultural centre' in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, which is still under construction but due to open later this year, is expected to have a final price tag of about €36.6m and that's taxpayers' money – your money.

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If we go by the last census of Dun Laoghaire town, then every man, woman and child will have kicked in about a grand in construction costs. So what are we getting for our money?

Well, the "monstrosity" – as many locals have called it – will contain rooms for local arts and community groups, which we already have via the Boylan Community Centre just around the corner. There'll be a cafe (because the 20 or so cafes we already have in Dun Laoghaire aren't quite getting the job done, apparently, even with the addition of two Starbucks in the last 12 months). A 100-seat auditorium seems totally wasteful considering we have the Pavilion theatre with a capacity of over 300, not to mention a modern multiplex cinema, the IMC off Lower George's Street.

The new development will also provide the public with what is being called a 'reading and public internet area' which I can only imagine is a big room with seats and a modem plugged into the wall somewhere. This may sound modern and attractive but don't be fooled. There are plenty of places to sit and read a book if you so wish and as for the internet incentive, it's already behind the times. People who need to use the internet on the move tend to have already planned for it by having a USB dongle which plugs into your laptop and connects to the internet wirelessly in the same way a mobile phone would; while many others have stopped dragging their laptops around with them in favour of tablet devices and smartphones which can connect to the web on their own and are far more portable. There are also several net cafes still operating in Dun Laoghaire.

In essence, the 'reading and public internet area' is probably going to become a loitering ground for groups of bored teens to hang out. As for the proposed gallery and local history room, which certainly might be of interest to some, it could easily have been installed in a pre-existing premises; perhaps somewhere on the third level of Dun Laoghaire Shopping Centre which may be the most depressing floor of shops in Ireland to walk through with only a few units still operating surrounded by dark windows and drawn shutters.

I recently heard it referred to as 'Hitler's Bunker'.

The primary function of the monstrosity is as a library, which we already have in Dun Laoghaire. Why they didn't simply put a fraction of what has been spent on this project into modernising the library we already have is beyond me. With all the modern technology available today, printed media is in an inevitable decline, a huge proportion of avid book readers now use electronic devices like Kindles or e-reader s, which allow users to store and carry around thousands of books as well as to control the size of the text on the pages which has made them very attractive to anyone with poor or failing eyesight.

Spending €36.6m on an obviously declining market is insane, but perhaps the only thing more obscene than the cost is the appearance of the building itself, which is monstrous. It's like some sort of grotesque monument to the reckless spending of the boom years. One more enormous financial blunder to serve as an eternal reminder of the mistakes of the past.

The 125ft behemoth destroys the appearance of Dun Laoghaire's historic Victorian seafront, which is beyond a shame and makes the council's plans for a gallery and local history room laughable. It's like saying "come in and look at some pictures of the history we've damaged".

In the planning stages, the intrusive monstrosity was pitched as being only four storeys tall, which is true, but nobody expected them to make the ceilings so ridiculously high. From the outside, it looks more like eight or 10 storeys. It's difficult to understand how the design of this building was ever approved, it's so clearly out of place, suffocating everything around it. The expression "a camel is a horse designed by a committee" comes to mind.

So why have they built it? It seems as though the council is abandoning the main street and its shopping centres in favour of the seafront, which they have been pouring money into in recent years with renovations of the East Pier as well as the installation of a boardwalk-style area complete with modern playground just outside of the Pavilion Quarter, which features several restaurants and a theatre.

Plans for a summer drive-in theatre have also been approved. While this new development will provide more jobs along the seafront, it will do nothing to assist the ailing shopping district, which is where a stimulus plan is really needed.

The economic downturn coupled with the opening of Dundrum Shopping Centre has seen Dun Laoghaire suffer financially.

Once upon a time, it was the suburban shopping choice for many Dubliners who wanted some retail therapy and a day out, without the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Times have changed and we do have to face it, but not by abandoning our main street. Instead of burning money on a building that has little value but an enormous cost, the council should be using its resources to incentivise new businesses to open, as well as planning events and providing attractions like free parking days to encourage people to come and spend money here.

On May 1, a public meeting was held in the Royal Marine Hotel in which the new library was discussed with a resoundingly negative response from the floor.

During that meeting, it was said that demolishing the library now would cost €2m, a fact that was largely greeted with the response that it would be "worth it". You would hope that the council would simply admit it has made a mistake by wasting millions on this pointless, ugly eyesore that now sits slumped over our once beautiful seafront but considering that only two of the 24 Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour councillors who voted in favour of the new library bothered appearing at the public meeting – Labour's Jane Dillon Byrne (who has since been voted out of office) and Fianna Fail's Cormac Devlin – there seems little chance that anyone is going to do anything besides burying their heads in the sand.

Talking to members of the public in Dun Laoghaire, people seem to be in consensus about the new library and what it symbolises – a council that acts in its own interests and not in those of the public who have elected it.

At a time when Dun Laoghaire is in dire need of philanthropic spending, it has wasted €36.6m of your money on a white elephant.

Sunday Independent

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