A field of 176 public and academic building projects bears fruit
Whether sleek and modern, true to classic lines, or touched with whimsy, the projects that comprise the library construction landscape, featured in the December 2011 issue of Library Journal, are greener than ever, with U.S. Green Building Council silver, gold, and platinum shimmering from many of our 150 public projects and 26 academic library buildings completed between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification and practice is at the heart of much of today’s library design, just as these new and updated buildings were designed to be at the heart of their communities.
What was cutting-edge in terms of sustainable features—solar roofs, recycled building materials, low-VOC paint, bicycle racks, high-efficiency windows, and underfloor HVAC systems—is now more widespread and familiar in library planning. Yet, there are still a few new sustainable wheels rolling down the ecofriendly pike, like a cupola at the North Kohala Public Library, Kapaau, HI, for natural light and wind turbines for power; chilled beam technology to reduce energy and an innovative stormwater collection system at the Orange Branch Library, Delaware, OH; a collaboration between the Mission Branch of San Antonio Public Library and the San Antonio Water System for the installation and operation of a demonstration rainwater/AC condensate collection system for irrigation; and an anticipated electric vehicle charging station at the Fitchburg Public Library, WI.
As well as being environmentally sound, this year’s projects focus on the needs of their constituents for a place to gather and to feel at home. The central atrium at the Vancouver Community Library, WA, is considered the “city’s living room,” as it links the five levels of the new structure. For the kids, Vancouver offers a children’s museum–like experience, which is also the thrust behind the remodel of New York’s Queens Library Children’s Library Discovery Center. San Diego’s Fallbrook Library, winner of a People’s Choice Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation and also referred to as the community’s living room, includes a Poet’s Patio and an outdoor reading garden. Growing new readers is also on the agenda of Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing Branch, which features a family reading garden, while the walled story garden of the Fox Lake District Library, IL, connects directly to the indoor children’s space.
The Peoria Public Library North Branch, IL, encompasses a reading garden and vast prairie views, while the Caledonia Township Branch of Kent District Library, MI, has a children’s garden that includes a giant checkerboard. A crowning achievement in imaginative children’s spaces is the Robbie Waters Pocket-Greenhaven Branch of the Sacramento Public Library, CA, whose children’s reading tower mimics a castle (above) when seen from the outside.
Moving back inside, the project at Aspen Drive Library, Vernon Hills, IL, is a little fishy, incorporating a children’s aquarium. The remodel of the Phoenix Public Library’s Juniper Branch has a designated “First Five Years” interactive literacy learning environment. And while information is key to library service, entertainment is right behind, as evidenced by the transformation of the multipurpose meeting room of Dallas’s Pleasant Grove Public Library into a black-box theater and the addition of a 300-seat auditorium and art gallery at Las Vegas’s Windmill Library and Service Center.
Mother Nature offered challenges to many regions and their libraries over the last several years, but some are getting back on their feet. Mississippi’s new Waveland Public Library replaces a Katrina-damaged facility with a structure that includes a welcoming front porch and a children’s library called, fittingly, “Jean Lafitte’s Pirate Cove.” The Evelyn Meador Branch Library, Seabrook, TX, supplants the building impacted by Hurricane Ike in 2008, while the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, Washington, DC, has returned after a devastating 2007 fire.
Aside from physical disasters, economics has played havoc with our neighborhoods. Seeking to overturn some of the impact of these recent hard times, the Weaver Bolden Branch Library, Tuscaloosa, AL, is a joint venture with the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority to help revitalize the neighborhood, with the library next door to a community center. Denver’s Fruita Branch is in a mixed-use facility with a recreation center, senior center, swimming pool, and gymnasium. The University Place Pierce County Library, WA, combines with civic functions, police, city hall, and retail ventures. The Rita and Truett Smith Central Public Library, Wylie, TX, takes its place in a municipal complex comprising city offices and a rec center along a continuous 700′ Texas-limestone wall.
Updating historical buildings with fresh purpose means both green and community focus. The Scotts Valley Branch Library, CA, was once a roller rink; the Jackson Public Library, NH, is made from an old barn dismantled by the local historical society; and the Twin Oaks Branch, Austin, TX, is composed of salvaged bricks from the post office that stood on the site. The Nesconset Branch, Smithtown Special Library District, NY, transformed a 25,000 square foot 1961 National Guard armory building; the Dolley Madison Library, McLean, VA (on our cover), maintains Jeffersonian detail with an oculus (oval window) at the entrance and geometric inlays in the millwork. Then there’s Iowa’s Mason City Public Library (MCPL) renovation of its 1939 building. Composer Meredith Willson, a Mason City native, based his iconic Marian the Librarian in his Broadway hit The Music Man on a former MCPL director.
Among the academic library constructions are the massive addition/renovation at the University of California–Santa Cruz; the project at the University of Missouri–Kansas City that includes a 12,800 square foot addition standing 70′ high; and the new Arlington Campus Library of George Mason University.
Where we go from here
The perseverance of library capital projects is heartening, considering dire fiscal news nationwide. We all understand that libraries in these uncertain times are more valuable than ever. As they embrace sustainable features and save money on operations, they are a model to others. They also stand as a beacon to those whose lives have shifted with a collapsing economic framework. Libraries support us; we must continue to support them.