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Survey to guide design work for new library

While many of the 200 people surveyed so far say the Morgan Memorial Library is most convenient to them, 58 percent of them go primarily to other libraries, including the North Suffolk library, rather than to the older, downtown library.

That’s according to early results of a still-active community survey that the designers of the new downtown library, Richmond-based Quinn Evans Architects, are conducting to find out what city residents want in a new facility.

“One of the things we want to be doing is having a lot of community input on what the community would like to see in that library, the kind of facilities they’d like to see, the kind of programs they’d like to see implemented,” said Gerry Jones, city director of capital programs and buildings.

Jones, speaking to City Council Wednesday, said he has spent more than 20 years hoping to start work on a new downtown library, and with the design work set to begin, it’s much closer to fruition.

“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs trying to get this thing off the ground,” Jones said, “but thanks to the commitment of this council, we’re ready to move forward.”

The city last December selected Richmond-based Quinn Evans to design the new $21.1 million downtown library to replace the 14,500-square-foot Morgan Memorial Library. The company most recently designed a new, 44,000-square-foot library in Henrico County, just outside of Richmond, and the city’s new downtown library would be about 45,000 square feet.

Chuck Wray, a design specialist with Quinn Wray, told council that the initial takeaways from the survey include people who have a fondness for existing library services while recognizing the shortcomings of the existing facility.

Survey participants praised the library’s location, the staff, a meeting room available to non-profits, the computer labs and children’s programming, play area and books.

The survey, however, also noted many shortcomings, which included an uninviting atmosphere that is not welcoming for families and is too noisy, lacking in space for things such as separate areas for teens and youth, more computers and a dedicated area to hold community events, and that it lacks ADA accessibility.

Wray noted that, among the things missing that people want include more access to computers for job searches, a quiet reading room, more space to sit down and enjoy a book or magazine, a family resource center, an area for small business owners, state-of-the-art equipment and a more comfortable and enjoyable ambiance.

The company has also surveyed staff members, who expressed a desire to have a new building that would allow for community ownership of its space, along with an adaptable space for different uses. They want it to be able to grow and adapt based on the needs of the community.

“What’s really inspiring to me is the potential for this library to be a kick-starter for development,” Wray said.

He cited Henrico’s library as an example of this and said the new downtown library in the city has the same potential.

“We see the investment in downtown with this new central library is significantly important,” Wray said. “It will help spur development. We’re confident it will be a major aid to the community.”

Jones said there would be numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in on what it wants from a downtown library.

Quinn Evans began the community survey June 18, and it will be active through July 15. There will also be two virtual meetings later this month, one July 7 another July 28, both at 7 p.m.

The first virtual meeting will update the public on the community survey and discuss what a 21st-century library can look like. The second virtual meeting will include an update on the community survey results and polling results from the first meeting. The two meetings will take place through Zoom, and the links can be found on the library’s website.

The design phase of the project is scheduled to run from September through next August, with bidding for the project slated for fall 2021 and construction between December 2021 and February 2023. If timelines go according to the current project schedule, the new library could open by late spring 2023.

Wray said they want to create an open, welcoming feel for the library with a “Barnes & Noble” retail-like character and quality to it. He stressed the importance of having programming and spaces to meet the needs of patrons of all ages.

“We really think we speak the language of libraries very, very well,” Wray said. “But we want to understand the local dialect, to understand the nuances and subtleties of this community so that we can tune the design to your needs.”

 

Info

To take the community survey on the new downtown library, go to suffolkpubliclibrary.com/291/New-Central-Library. The survey is also printable, or people can request a hard copy of it from the library and use the curbside service to pick it up from either Morgan Memorial Library or the North Suffolk Library. Verbal feedback can also be left at 514-7311, and additional written feedback can be emailed to libraryemail@suffolkva.us. The survey deadline is July 15.