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Architects propose $21M library

A proposed new downtown library would cost more than $21 million and include maker spaces, meeting spaces and other new library amenities, an architectural firm told City Council earlier this month.

After months of public and staff input, Waller, Todd and Sadler Architects presented the proposed plans for a new library as part of the downtown master plan.

Bill Schwegler, vice president and director municipal/K-12 programs, and Maureen McElfresh, project manager, presented their findings and a proposed plan for the new library that would be placed on West Washington Street during the Nov. 7 City Council work session.

The new library would feature 45,305 square feet to include book collections, seating, technology spaces, maker spaces, meeting spaces and ample room for staff to work. The proposal also included an area that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We engaged the staff of Suffolk Public Library to get their initial vision, and when we moved through that process, that vision got reinforced with plans we proceeded with,” said Schwegler.

After engaging with city staff and library staff, the firm worked to have city input through a variety of meetings and surveys. This allowed the architects to see what spaces were a necessity and what function was needed in the new library.

Ninety people attended the two public input sessions for the library and 288 people returned surveys, and it allowed them to get a full idea of what would best suit Suffolk in a new facility.

“It was very well vetted by the public and what they think currently exists and what they could add to be more successful for the community,” Schwegler said.

After input from the public and staff, the firm chose to look at how Morgan Memorial Library functioned and how space was working for the current library programs.

“We went on to review the existing library to see what in that library might be salvageable or what wasn’t,” Schwegler said.

Morgan Memorial is a 14,500-square-foot facility that is currently not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The architects looked to see if they could remain at the same location and expand outwards and upwards, but the current land doesn’t allow for much growth.

“It would be difficult to add on with the new building to be 45,000 square feet. We would have to grow four stories to accommodate it,” McElfresh said.

The current library across from City Hall lacks amenities and functionality needed for a basic library or a library of the future. Morgan Memorial features only one multi-purpose room that hosts a slew of programs for the library.

“As consultants, after we talked to staff, we were amazed at the things they were doing with what they had,” McElfresh said.

The firm presented costs to the City Council for both renovation and a new library, and the new library would cost less than just renovating Morgan Memorial.

To renovate the old library would cost $25 million, plus an additional $2.4 million to make streetscape improvements.

A new library and onsite improvements would cost $21.1 million, with streetscape improvements costing $1.5 million.

Throughout the planning process, Schwegler and McElfresh had a list of guiding principles from the library staff that would help guide the vision and the building program.

Some of the principles included a collaborative team approach, a staff of creators and innovators and equity and need-based services. These principles allowed for the firm to design a modern library.

The proposed building would allow for continued innovation and growth, and it would feature multiple enclosed meeting spaces that could have many functions.

“We sized the building to accommodate the needs and make the facility flexible. This is not going to be a building for just 20 years, but this building will work for 50 years,” McElfresh said. “As programs change and desires change, the facility can grow with any new system.”