Library Construction and Renovation

2012 State of America's Libraries Report

Stephens Central Library. Photo by Tom Kessler.The Stephens Central Library in San Angelo, Texas, took over a vacant department store building. Photo by Tom Kessler.

When it comes to environmental sustainability — and innovative design in general — libraries continue to take the LEED.

Green roofs, solar panels, landscaping to manage storm water and other aspects of the local environment, and certification under the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program are becoming almost commonplace. Another feature that’s gaining popularity: geothermal well systems, which use the relatively stable temperature of the ground to heat buildings in winter and cool them in summer.

(The LEED rating system offers four certification levels for new construction — Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum — that correspond to the number of credits accrued in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.)

“As focal centers of our neighborhoods and towns, libraries are uniquely positioned to take the lead in helping communities learn and understand what green buildings and LEED mean for them,” Jacquelyn Marie Erdman, a knowledge exchange coordinator for the U.S. Green Building Council, writes in American Libraries. “Green building initiatives go beyond the construction of the singular building and consider how the structure will integrate into the landscape and neighborhoods by encouraging participation in building healthier environments in which we live and work.”

A careful choice of construction material, for example, can enhance the performance and aesthetics of a building. Vibrant and colorful spaces can entice children and help turn them into lifelong learners. Libraries can encourage connections to the outside world by using windows and daylight to bring the outside in or including features that draw patrons outside. And libraries are recognizing that teens have different needs, including technology, flexible and collaborative space, and a separate area where they can be themselves.

Academic libraries, for their part, have embraced the concept of the learning commons, sacrificing shelving for comfort, collaboration, and connectivity. The new, renovated, or expanded building projects completed in 2011 are dramatic examples of how buildings can reposition the library as the intellectual center of campus. The Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons renovation at Seattle University, for example, created an expandable 24-hour zone, café, math lab, and media production center, presenting students with a one-stop shop for almost any academic need.

Kathryn Miller sums it up in Public Libraries Going Green: “Environmental leadership and education are growth opportunities for the twenty-first century library.”

First LEED Gold–certified building in Alaska: A library

The Mountain View branch of the Anchorage (Alaska) Public Library, for example, is the first LEED Gold–certified building in Alaska. The Mountain View construction project, which renovated and expanded the former home of the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Department, maintained 95% of the building’s existing walls, floors, and roof. Light is provided by 50,000-hour-lifespan LED lights with daylight sensors that automatically adjust illumination based on incoming daylight.

A few other examples of sustainable library construction:

  • The Maricopa County (Ariz.) Library District’s White Tank branch library and Nature Center. The White Tank Library is the first LEED Platinum–certified public library in Arizona. Power for the building is generated entirely from clean energy sources, 27% of it from a photovoltaic collector array that covers half the building roof. The library has concrete exterior walls that moderate heat absorption, perforated metal overhangs and shade fins that help to shield the building against sun while preserving views, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and a system that filters wastewater and infiltrates it into the site, allowing the facility to remain unconnected to public sewers.
  • Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Library. The need to replace the leaky roof of the 1954 Beaux-Arts addition offered an opportunity to enhance both sustainability and education. The 30,000-square-foot roof is planted with native grasses and sedums that give the roof a variety of textures and colors year-round, while a 30-kilowatt photovoltaic array generates power for the building. The roof also features an observation deck, while a formerly unused alcove on the first floor now houses an education center about sustainability with a live webcam of the roof and monitors that stream rooftop data.
  • The High Prairie branch of the Pikes Peak Library District, Falcon, Colorado. The construction of this library was funded in part by a Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The building uses geothermal heating and cooling augmented by ceiling fans, a system that is tied to vents in the clerestory ceiling that open when the outside temperature is between 65 and 75 degrees to maintain building temperature naturally. Other green features include low-flush toilets, occupancy sensors on lights, drought-tolerant landscaping, careful management of natural light, and interior surfaces furnished in pine that was reclaimed from forests devastated by pine beetles.
  • Hennepin County (Minn.) Library, Maple Grove branch. The Maple Grove Library exceeds the Minnesota energy code by more than 40%, saving energy through daylight harvesting and the use of renewable energy sources. An onsite lake provides hydrothermal heat and cooling. The library has a green roof and an efficient under-floor distribution system for conditioned air, and was built using low- to no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, sealants, and glues.

Innovations support everyday functions and innovative programming

Libraries are also demonstrating that new construction is not the only way to go. A few examples of how buildings support innovative library programming — or how they support everyday functions in a novel way:

  • Having been built in 1901, the Bolton (Mass.) Public Library building had history on its side, but because it hadn’t been expanded or renovated since construction, it had space for materials but not for other functions. An expansion project increased the size of the library from 2,000 to 16,000 square feet — 700% — making space for a community room, technology spaces, quiet study areas, and a separate children’s area with a story and crafts room — all while retaining the library’s historic character.
  • The new Kendall Neighborhood Library, a branch of the Houston (Tex.) Public Library, is the city’s first combined library and community center, which allowed the library to share costs with the Parks and Recreation Department and reduce overall costs. While the community center occupies the first floors, a drive-up window and check-in and -out services on the first story offer convenient service for library patrons.

Renovation and expansion may add up to reincarnation

Some libraries started life as something other than libraries and have assumed a new form and function:

  • Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind Library Media Center, Staunton. The Stuart Building, which now houses a 4,400-square-foot library and a student center, was built in 1914 and originally held classrooms, workshops, and a swimming pool. For many years, however, the building had been used for storage. The renovation created a flexible and accessible space within the framework of the historical building, with a new passenger elevator and exposed ceiling-beam architecture.
  • The renovation and expansion of the New Castle (Del.) Public Library incorporated the original 5,625-square-foot building, a historic 2,467-square-foot house adjacent to the property, and a two-story, 9,135-square-foot glass addition to connect the two. The expansion increased meeting space, seating areas, and the children’s section; created a new teen section; and improved building accessibility.
  • Jolliffe Hall, which houses the Manhattan (Kans.) Christian College Library as well as classrooms and a chapel, was built in 1927 and is the oldest building on campus. The building was gutted and renovated, which doubled the size of the library to 6,400 square feet and brought it into ADA compliance. The project added an entryway with stairs and an elevator on the south side of the building.

“The library is more than a place for books,” Greg Landgraf wrote in introducing American Libraries’ annual review of new and renovated libraries. “It’s a place for people and a place for the community.”