February 16, 2018

Ambitious NYPL Renovation Back on Track

The New York Public Library is restarting its plan to revamp the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

This month, the library’s board of trustees approved the start of schematic designs by architecture firm Foster + Partners. The library also launched what it called “a citywide public dialogue” about the library’s plan for the future (a far cry from the secrecy a Nation writer ascribed to the library last December.) Originally projected to be completed by 2014, the revised reopening might take place in 2017 or 2018, estimated library spokesperson Angela Montefinise.

Conceptual Design, Gottesman Exhibition Hall

Conceptual Design, Gottesman Exhibition Hall. Courtesy of Dbox for Foster + Partners

The plan was originally announced in 2008, when Schwarzman donated $100 million toward the renovation. It is expected to cost about $300 million for the 42nd St. renovation. The renovation’s goals are to better preserve research materials, consolidate locations, open an additional 20,000 square feet to the public (compared to all the consolidated locations put together), enhance the research process for scholars, and save money over time.

Specifically, the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) and the Mid-Manhattan Library, which houses a circulating collection, would be folded into the Schwarzman building and both the SIBL and Mid-Manhattan buildings would be sold. The Donnell branch on West 53rd Street, which closed in 2008, was sold in July 2011, according to the New York Times. Montefinise told LJ that Donnell sold for $59 million, which will go toward redoing the 42nd St. building. (An earlier deal for the property went south due to the economic downturn, which also delayed the sale of Mid-Manhattan.)

The NYPL estimates that the number of visitors to the building would triple as a result of the consolidation. (To accommodate all those extra visitors, the library would stay open till 11 p.m. some nights.)

Proposed additions include more computers and more dedicated spaces for up to 500 NYPL-affiliated writers and scholars, doubling the current capacity. To make room for these improvements and the circulating collection, which will move from Mid-Manhattan, two to three million of the five million research collections volumes currently housed in the building could be moved off-site, joining the 3.5 million materials already stored off-site.

The library forecasts that at least 1.5 million research volumes will remain on-site, chosen on the basis of which categories are used most often, along with 40,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 250,000 prints, 450,000 maps, close to one million photos, and more. The items stored off-site would be available within 24 hours, and some materials could be requested for online delivery.

The physical transformation is intended to be part and parcel of a larger plan to provide new, needed services at all branches, not just 42nd Street. The total expenditure may come to as much as $1 billion, though plans have been scrapped for two new branches, one in Upper Manhattan and one on Staten Island, that would have cost $40 million each.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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