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May 26, 2004

The cost of libraries

Seattle has just opened a new central library, a project that cost $165.5 million. Compare it with the earlier ones:

1906 library, $200,000.
1960 library, $4.5 million.
2004 library, $165.5 million.

The unit of measurement is not the same. The 1906 library, an imposing Beaux Arts edifice, was paid for in gold dollars and built entirely with private money. The second library, done in the sparse International Style, was paid for in postwar dollars. The new Rem Koolhaas library is paid in current dollars, which to the older generation must seem more like pesos.

Using the inflation converter at the web page of the Minneapolis Fed and assuming that 1906 is close enough to use the 1913 figures--the earliest they have--I came up with the following costs in 2004 dollars:

1906 library, $3.8 million.
1960 library, $28.5 million.
2004 library, $165.5 million.

The floor areas were not the same. The first library was 55,000 square feet; the second, 206,000 square feet; the new one, 362,987 square feet. Here is the cost per square foot in 2004 dollars:

1906 library, $68.87.
1960 library, $138.20.
2004 library, $455.94.

Well, I hope the new library lasts a long time.

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Posted by Bruce Ramsey at May 26, 2004 10:52 AM



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