The Augusta-Richmond County Historical Preservation Commission rightly put its foot down last Tuesday on the proposed design for the badly needed new library.
Then on Thursday the commission inexplicably lifted that foot up and backed off -- much too far, much too easily.
What a horrible shame. The historic preservation commission failed to live up to its duty to be a guardian of the city's invaluable historic trademark. They let us all down.
And after one preservation commission member had called the library's modern design "severe and brutal."
In its mediated compromise with the library's architects, the commission has allowed a wholly uninspiring modern-style building that eschews the classical architecture that makes this such a beautiful and timeless city on the old Savannah. Instead, it was enough for the commission that the bricks on the new library be closer in hue to those of surrounding buildings.
A change of color? That's it? Hardly a legacy to leave to future generations.
In going with the latest fashion, officials will find that fashions fade rather quickly. In not too many years, the library won't seem modern; it will appear hopelessly dated.
How can a historic preservation commission worth its salt be content to just get by with having the library look a little more like surrounding buildings? Libraries are special institutions, and Augusta is a special city, and people ought to be able to walk into a library in this venerable old city feeling that they've just entered a building where something extraordinary takes place. Not a building that looks somewhat like the place next door.
Look no farther than the next county over. When Columbia County built its new library, it borrowed splendid Georgian and Greek Revival architectural features from the Columbia County Judicial Center. With its white columns and brick exteriors, both buildings complement each other, and the interiors are thoroughly modern and efficient. And Columbia County residents still have not stopped raving about their new library.
So why can't that be done in Augusta? Georgian and Greek Revival are among the 10 architectural styles found near the library. Victorian and Second Empire styles look to be present, too. There are so many creative approaches designers can take with this project -- giving the city a library with a striking, historically reverent exterior, and an inviting, comfortable and modern interior.
The quick mediation likely was prompted by the circumstances surrounding a $2 million state grant. The deal was that the state would bestow the grant on the library if the building is operating by June 2010.
That's letting the tail wag the dog. Forty years from now, folks won't care about a $2 million grant, but will wish their library weren't so dated and out of place.
Junk this design and start over.