Library Construction and Renovation

Library interior

Interest rates are low, but libraries still produce solid dividends

Even with an economy still staggering under the impact of the Great Recession, library construction and renovation continued apace in 2012, concrete evidence that libraries still bring solid economic dividends to the communities they serve.

The trend toward renovation was particularly striking. The Jackson (N.H.) Public Library partnered with the local historical society to re-erect a dismantled 1850s barn for use as the new library building. In Santa Cruz, Calif., an abandoned roller rink became the Scotts Valley branch of Santa Cruz Public Libraries—and an anchor for a new town center. And when a Walmart in McAllen, Texas, moved to a larger location, the city transformed the space into a 123,000-square-foot main library that the McAllen Public Library system claims “may very well be the largest single-floor public library in the nation.”

The year also demonstrated once again that the benefits of libraries aren’t limited to the direct services they provide.

“Rangeview Library District in Adams County, Colorado, has become known for its innovative Anythink brand over the past few years,” Greg Landgraf wrote in American Libraries magazine. “The rebranding—and the capital construction projects it included—didn’t just energize the library system. It also had both direct and indirect impact on the local economy by putting people to work in construction, creating destinations that attract people who go on to spend at nearby businesses, and partnering with local businesses to offer enhanced services within library locations.”

Old and new coexist at historic St. Louis library

St. Louis’s historic Central Library reopened in late 2012 after being closed for two years for a $70 million renovation that retained the building’s classic design elements while integrating state-of-the-art technology. The historic parts of the 190,000-square-foot building, showpiece of the St. Louis Public Library system, were restored, while space available to the public almost doubled. The stacks are gone, along with the glass flooring, but some of the glass was reused—an indication of how the renovation married old with new.

“Century-old treasures now share the same home as a thousand miles of fiber optic cable,” Jane Henderson wrote in an appraisal in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Ceilings inspired by Renaissance palaces have been restored, and 100-year-old stained glass and alabaster lamps have been cleaned. But those glories aren’t enough for a 21st-century library, which also needs high-speed wireless access, data closets, and dozens of computers.”

The library is made up of an oval central pavilion, which holds the Great Hall, surrounded by rectangular wings connected to the oval structure by bridges. Many windows (some facing the interior courtyard) let in light.

The stack structure was modern for its time, but the stacks were fire hazards and inaccessible to the public, so George Z. Nikolajevich, the Cannon Design architect who planned the library’s renovation, replaced them with a soaring atrium that houses new mobile shelving, visible through glass walls.

“Overall, the historic parts of the 190,000-square-foot building were restored while space available to the public almost doubled,” wrote Henderson.

Original elements of the library that were preserved include the Grand Foyer’s ceiling mural, a fine example of Beaux Arts–building painting; stained-glass windows that decorate staircases to the third floor; the original 565 pieces of granite of the front steps; the exterior walls of Maine granite; and the Great Hall’s walls of Tennessee marble. The building’s exterior is decorated with carvings and quotations, including this one, from Thomas Carlyle: “In books lies the soul of the whole past time: The articulate audible voice of the past.”

And what’s new? A 244-seat wheelchair-accessible auditorium on the lower level, where the coal bin was; clouds on the children’s room’s ceiling; a Creative Experience room that lets visitors explore new technology; and, of course, a public computer room where laptops and iPads can be checked out. (Eight new data closets hold new wiring.)

Physical structures change to meet higher-tech needs

As the transformation of libraries continues, it follows that libraries’ physical structures have to transform as well in order to support changes in services, missions, and audiences. One clearly discernible shift was toward higher tech, and many libraries have incorporated technology into their construction projects.

The $1.35 million renovation and expansion of the Santana High School library in Santee, Calif., for example, took note of the shortcoming of its former 30-computer lab, which couldn’t accommodate the average class of 35-40 students, let alone walk-in students. The new glass-enclosed lab has an LCD projector and screens, outlets to allow students or teachers to make presentations, and a separate computer bar that serves walk-ins.

The renovated and expanded North Branch Library of the Terrebonne Parish Library System in Houma, La., now has 36 public computers, as well as a lab with 12 more workstations for computer classes. Two meeting rooms have LCD projectors and screens, as well as internet capability. Wireless is available throughout, and some of the seating options are specially designed to incorporate laptops. The 12,000-square-foot expansion brought the overall space of the branch to 26,000 square feet and cost $5.7 million.

The Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library’s renovation of its 44,000-square-foot Fairview Park branch included a Technology Learning Center and self-checkout machines. The $1 million effort, part of the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Facilities Master Plan, also included a redesigned popular materials area; a travel-themed children’s Play, Learn, and Grow area that features three airplanes to simulate a child-sized Fairview Park Airport; replicas of London’s Big Ben and Paris’s Eiffel Tower; and an aquarium that represents an Australian barrier reef.

And speaking of kids . . . children continue to be one of the core constituencies of many libraries, though the spaces serving pre-kindergartners are going to look very different from those serving teenagers.

At the new $10.5 million England Run Branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in Fredericksburg, Va., the smaller patrons have a dedicated room with early-literacy materials, a hobbit-hole entrance they can slide through, and a crawler’s corral designed for babies and toddlers. Most of the teen book collection occupies a wave wall with built-in seating meant to encourage teens to stay and get lost in a book. An adjacent lounge with vending machines allows teens to socialize without bothering other patrons.

At the Salt Lake County (Utah) Library Services’ new Magna Library, the Alphabet Landscape, with more than 100 interactive educational elements, is the cornerstone of the children’s area. Many activities are alliterative with letters of the alphabet: “A” features animal sounds and a story about acrobats, for example, while the “S” bench includes a sewing activity. Cost of the 20,000-square-foot children’s area was $320,000, out of a total price tag of $8.1 million. The building as a whole is double the size of the community’s previous facility and is designed to be Gold-certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Sometimes restoration is really recycling

Some libraries turned restoration into a sort of large-scale recycling that transformed existing spaces to meet current and future needs, saved money, reduced environmental impact, and, sometimes, preserved pieces of local history.

In Jackson, N.H., the public library took to heart the old adage, “Make hay while the sun shines.” The library’s new home is in a barn that was built in 1858 as part of the town’s first inn, then dismantled and stored away in 2008 . . . at about the same time the library was looking to open a new facility. The library’s architect-designed building fell victim to the Great Recession, so the library partnered with the Jackson Historical Society, itself looking for a way to re-erect the barn.

Sometimes the practice helps rejuvenate neighborhoods as well. Scotts Valley, Calif., refurbished a former indoor roller rink located in a redevelopment district for use as the new Scotts Valley Library, part of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries. The building is also the first civic project in the city’s new town center. The former roller rink’s raised platform and booth seating provides the teen area space for both independent and collaborative work. Steps make for informal seating for socializing and gaming at a wall-mounted console, and teens can store their things in roller rink–inspired cubbies. The library portion occupies 13,500 square feet out of a total of 22,600 square feet. The total renovation cost $2.7 million.

“In Pennsylvania,” American Libraries’ Landgraf wrote, “the North Wales Area Librarytook over an aging coaxial connector and cable assembly factory in a residential area and transformed it for use as its new library. Exterior finishing and landscaping created gardens and a brickwork plaza for public use. ‘We wanted the neighbors to feel good about the library,’ said Library Director Jayne Blackledge. . . . ‘The building itself largely preserved the factory’s layout: The manufacturing space became the library’s public area, while the administrative area turned into staff offices.” The library also enclosed the factory’s loading dock, creating community meeting rooms that are accessible after library hours.

The Stephens Central Library in San Angelo, Texas, took over the downtown building of the Hemphill-Wells Department Store, which had moved out in the 1980s. Although it had stood vacant for more than 20 years, the store still held a fond space in the hearts of the city’s residents. Reoccupying it has a strong symbolic value: “Everyone above a certain age knew that building and shopped there,” said Larry Justiss, director of the Tom Green County Library System, of which the Stephens Library is a part. And when the city began investing in downtown, businesses followed suit. “For many years you’d come through the heart of San Angelo and there wouldn’t be much activity.” Justiss said. “That has changed.”

New libraries built to meet changing community needs

Libraries also continued to transform themselves to meet the changing needs of the people they serve and to keep up with the relentless march of technology.

The new South County Library of the Roanoke County (Va.) Public Library System doubles as a community cultural center, with more than 12,000 square feet dedicated to meeting rooms, a 200-seat auditorium, a café, a bookstore, and a special young-adult room, all of which are accessible after normal library hours. The library also offers drive-up services and community reading gardens for children and adults. The 54,000-square-foot facility cost $18 million.

In Maryland, the new Charles E. Miller Branch and Historical Center of the Howard County Library System features a dividable meeting room that seats 300, a historical center, and a community-based teaching garden that focuses on health, nutrition, and environmental education. In order to save energy, light settings can be adjusted depending on outdoor light levels, and an 8,800-square-foot vegetated roof adjacent to the terrace overlook includes plantings in colors that reflect the interior color palette. Construction of the 63,000-square-foot Miller Branch cost $29 million.

And with a keen eye on both present and future needs, the Windmill Library and Service Center of the Las Vegas–Clark County (Nev.) Library District features automated sorting equipment and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to improve material turnaround and a custom self-service kiosk where patrons can pay fines and fees electronically . . . but it also includes more than 7,000 square feet of space that is finished on the outside and wired and plumbed on the inside but that is currently unused. When the community grows, the dividing wall can be removed and that space converted to house library materials. The Windmill Library also has—not a windmill—but a rooftop solar array that can produce up to 8 percent of the building’s energy needs. The cost for the full 124,490-square-foot building, which includes administrative offices and the 36,233-square-foot library (including future expansion space) was $45.7 million.

Green is good—and ever more popular

Green has, in fact, become libraries’ favorite color, as the use of daylight, green roofs, solar panels, water management, and certification under the LEED program continues to gain popularity.

The recently renovated and expanded Franklin Avenue Library of the Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library is aiming to be the first LEED Platinum–certified library in the state. A solar thermal collector and thermal storage supplies 85% of the heating load, minimizing the operation of the boiler. The building includes a rooftop photovoltaic system, a staff shower to encourage walking or biking to work, composting of staff-room waste for a neighboring community garden, double-pane fixed windows, LED lighting, and chilled-beam radiant heating and cooling.

A solar array on the roof of the new Rifle Branch of the Garfield County (Colo.) Public Library District supplies more than one-third of the building’s electrical needs, and a lobby kiosk reveals information about the facility’s solar production and usage on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. The LEED Gold–certified building also has 93 percent-efficient natural gas boilers, an underfloor air-distribution system, daylighting controls, and water-saving toilets.

And back to Anythink . . . The renovation and expansion of the Anythink Perl Mack Branch of the Rangeview Library District in Denver is heated and cooled by geothermal exchange wells under the parking lot, and the existing roof was updated to support a future solar photovoltaic array. The project also created a front porch and transformed an adjacent empty lot into a community garden.


The State of America's Libraries 2013