RIGA - The government has decided to follow through with the controversial plan to build a massive new national library despite the country's precarious economic situation and recommendations from the European Commission to run a larger budget surplus.
Still, though Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis has said there is no doubt that the project would become a reality, the government has not yet been able to secure funding for anything beyond the initial phase of construction.
The Cabinet of Ministers gave the project the official go-ahead on Feb. 12, agreeing to make the laws necessary for construction a top priority for Parliament.
Following the government meeting, Finance Minister Atis Slakteris said he hoped the cost of the project would not increase and made a case for the utility of the new building.
"This is a national symbol and investment into people's intellectual development to ensure our competitiveness," the minister said.
Though the government has not yet set any deadlines for the construction, The New Three Brothers 's the company in charge of realizing the project 's hopes that it will be able to hold a groundbreaking ceremony sometime in the first half of this year.
"We are really close to [starting] the construction work. It is planned this spring around May or June. We are now in the negotiation process with the construction companies," representatives of New Three Brothers told The Baltic Times.
The official library Web site claims that the project will cost a total of 116 million lats (165 million euros), but estimates from local media adjusted for inflation, among other things, place the cost someplace closer to 550 million lats.
Bids by two construction consortiums last year came in at 458 and 555 million lats.
The library itself 's dubbed the "Castle of Light" 's will be built to reflect the castle of a famous Latvian folk-tale. In the myth, a Castle of Light will rise out of the Daugava River when Latvia has finally thrown off its oppressors.
Groundbreaking was initially scheduled for last November but had to be pushed back due to concerns over the economy and a pending government crisis. Both the government and New Three Brothers hope that the library, which will have total floor space of about 45,000 square meters, will be completed sometime between 2010 and 2012.
Plans now foresee construction taking place in two distinct phases.
The first phase envisages the construction of a communications network 's an information network which would connect all of the libraries in Latvia and has been dubbed the "Network of Light" 's and the library's concrete foundations.
Costs during this phase are estimated at about 16 million lats (22.7 million euros) not including the VAT. Funding has already been earmarked in this year's and the 2009 budgets.
The second phase will include actual construction of the building. It is still not clear where funding for the second, far more expensive, phase will come from.
There are three construction companies bidding for the rights to the project, all of which are associations formed by two or more local companies banding together to make a bid.
Though the construction industry has been growing at a breakneck pace over the past few years, in recent months fears over an economic hard-landing have brought growth, particularly in the housing market, to a grinding halt.
"The housing market is virtually brought to a standstill. It no longer exists! Of course, this market used to have its flaws, but now it does not exist at all," Guntis Ravis, president of Skonto Buve told the Baltic News Service in an interview.
Previously construction managers predicted that the government would likely step in to fill demand left by the private sector, with projects such as an expansion to the Straudins hospital and the national library.
Securing the rights to the national library project will be a huge boon for whichever company manages to secure the contract.
The national library is currently spread across eight different locations in Riga.