Quick Takes: On long stories at BCR from time to time we'll bring you the highlights up front, with detail to follow:
- The Library is 98% certain to remain on its current site, according to director Skip Auld.
- Consultants and architects are putting together a program for the services needed in the building, while also evaluating three possibilities for level of renovation to the structure -- changes that could range from basic aesthetic changes and clean-up to the addition of new wings or structures. Still, the core building itself is seen in good structural condition for re-use and adaptation.
- The County has allocated $8 million towards construction on the downtown renovation, about one-third of the total being spent on all the regional branch libraries this decade.
- Library staff are working with stakeholders on homelessness on a "day services center" to divert the population from the main library.
- Museum integration remains under consideration.
The H-S' Matthew Milliken has a brief summary of the meeting in this morning's paper.
In Depth: Tuesday night's forum on the future of downtown's main library was a lively affair -- far more so than the justice center debate filling the same auditorium last week -- that drew almost 70 participants to the existing 1980 structure to hold court on the future of the facility.
Not that the crowd was necessarily the most representative of Durham County, as resident Rosemary Kitchen observed near the end of the program. Calling for a show of hands on a number of demographic issues, Kitchen revealed that the clear majority of those in attendance were senior citizens; only a handful live in walking distance to the facility; few attendees have children (a major user base of the library.)
A surprising number of hands did raise to the question of how many attendees visit the main library at least once per week -- hands that mostly fell quickly, to laughter, when library director Skip Auld asked library employees to kindly refrain from answering.
Of course, the Tuesday night forum isn't the only source of input on the facility; it instead kicks off a full day of focus groups on the library's future set for Wednesday. These groups will include members of a wide range of constituencies, from the business community, to neighborhoods, to seniors, Latinos, teens, parents of young children, and the poor and homeless.
That said, there's a few things that don't seem to be very much in play as far as the library is concerned. Local architect (and Mangum 506 developer) Scott Harmon asked the elephant-in-the-room question at the first opportunity, inquiring as to whether the library would stay at its current site or move to a new location.
Ed Lazaron from Virginia-based consulting firm the Design Collaborative noted that that hadn't been decided, and that the current project was focused on assessing needs. But library director Auld quickly intervened to put the matter (largely) to rest.
"If I had to bet money on it, there's about a 98% chance we will be here," Auld said, emphasizing that any other location where the library might relocate would have to offer the same easily accessible, convenient parking as the current site
Another key factor in staying put, we'd surmise, is the cost factor. Local design firm SmithGroup has conducted an evaluation of the 1980 structure's condition and has found that -- dated architecture and worn interior furnishings aside -- "the building has good bones," according to architect Chris Brasier.
The cast-in-place concrete structure is adaptable to new interior changes with 30' x 30' "bays," or distances between structural columns -- meaning that it's relatively easy to modify and renovate the existing building. Additionally, the structure was designed to accomodate an additional floor if needed, giving flexibility to the almost thirty-year-old facility.
The pebble-like exterior wall system is also, in fact, a system of panels that aren't load-bearing and which can be swapped out with new surfaces over time, opening the door to adding more natural light within the building.
This perceived "good bones" to the building opened the door for SmithGroup architect Bill Ash to put forward three levels of renovation and intervention under discussion for the structure:
Light Renovation: The least-costly option would leave the building envelope and exterior look-and-feel unchanged, using landscaping/gardens and improved signage as a cosmetic improvement to the porcine facility. Worn carpets and furnishings inside would be replaced, with shelving units' heights lowered (to allow more natural light and improve perceived safety) and wider aisles created.
The facility's lighting -- which one panelist noted follows outdated, too-harsh, forty-year-old standards for libraries in the pre-computer days -- would be changed, along with new paint and colors, and customer service points would be renovated.
Moderate Renovation: A mid-case would include all of the above work, but would also make some changes to the building's exterior and interior. The precast concrete panels might be swapped out with glass units or curtain walls to change the building's external look and feel.
On the interior, the upper and lower lobbies -- a curious feature of the building, connected by a dark and closed-in stairwell -- could be significantly changed to create a grander central atrium, with the addition of skylights to bring in more light from above. The expanded, unified lobby could also provide a home for exhibits for the proposed Durham history museum, which some community members have called for being included within the library
Extensive Renovation: This would include both cases of work listed above along with a "remodeling, reskinning" of the entire library building, through the inclusion of external additions on at least one side of the building.
This could include a new wing on the Roxboro side, with a T-shaped cut-through of the lobbies; a rear addition towards the parking lot; a cantilevered addition where today' garage and service entrance are; an entirely new facade on the Roxboro side; or, intriguingly, wrapping the entire building in a light-filled structure, creating public and reading spaces on the building's exterior while maintaining the interior for stacks, services and technology.
After the presentation on the building's future -- and a lengthy talk by consultant Jeff Scherer on library trends, followed by a neutral facilitation exercise using Post-It Notes to capture the audience's thoughts -- the floor opened up for audience members' discussions on a wide range of topics.
Intensity of Renovations: One point of tension in the meeting revolved, however, around just how much funding for expansion the library might have. Durham resident Rob Lamme spoke early and passionately during the forum about what he wanted to see out of the facility, which he noted that he and his family use frequently.
"This library draws more people to downtown Durham than the Durham Bulls do. This lbrary is shabby, and pathetic, and embarrassing to this community – and it still draws that many people," Lamme said. "We cannot be penny wise and pound foolish on this library."
Yet Lamme intoned that the Board of County Commissioners already had a set amount of money in mind for the library project. "I know that the County Commissioners have a certain amount for this library," Lamme said, claiming that Skip Auld has been told the project will have to come in at or below that level. "I stay up at night worrying [if this is enough money]," Lamme added.
As County engineer Glen Whisler noted after the meeting, the County's capital improvement program does have a figure set aside currently for the project. The CIP allocates $11.6 million, largely from general obligation and two-thirds bond funds, for the effort, of which $8 million is targeted for construction.
This is only slightly more than the County has allocated for the new South branch library at Lowes Grove, which is set to receive $7 million in construction funds. (That project is set to go to the pre-bid conference phase today.) The Southwest branch is allocated $4 million for construction. Working from memory, Whisler recalled that the East and North branches cost about $5-6 million in construction apiece.
And while longtime library volunteer Wesley Brewer responded to Lamme by reminding him that the services in the building were great even if the facility was not, Lamme's question raises an important question: Has the County allocated enough funds for a successful renovation of the main branch library, relative to the extraordinary new facilities that have been constructed at the periphery of the community?
During the meeting, Whisler noted that the team would not necessarily cost out and bring forward plans reflecting all three levels of renovation, but instead, "We'll define what's really ideal for this project, put square feet to it and cost it out."
For her part, County Commissioner Becky Heron, the only elected official in attendance, made a pitch for the audience to support the prepared food tax "to help fund these kind of projects."
"Get out and vote. Take your neighbors with you. We desperately need that money," Heron said.
Location Within Downtown: Although some of the talk in the last couple of years has included thoughts of moving the library to a new site, a few stakeholders from the neighboring Cleveland-Holloway community expressed their desire to see the facility stay in its current location.
“We are huge fans of the library, and believe that it is already in the center of Downtown Durham,” said Keelee MacPhie, a Cleveland-Holloway resident and activist. "We would love to see the [Downtown Loop] redirected, improving the access to the area for pedestrians," she added, noting that the community room was actively used by members of the neighborhood.
Fellow C-H resident Natalie Spring shared praise for the plans to keep the library on the current site, though expressing concerns about the length of time that the facility might need to close for renovation. Whisler noted that it was a "reasonable possibility" that there would be some closure, adding that renovation could be completed more quickly and more successfully with a facility's temporary shutdown.
The question of access to the Library, an issue tied deeply to its location, came up in an unexpected way from Allen Lang, a member of the Library's board of trustees.
Responding to an idea from consultant Jeff Scherer (who noted that some libraries were adding food or cafe services within their libraries), Lang noted that the Justice Center plan had come under criticism for not including food services on-site. Why not have a cafe in the library, Lang asked, and draw workers up from the courthouse and from the new Human Services Complex on E. Main St.? After all, if they were hungry, it would be a natural destination, the trustee mused.
Lang also called for the presence of a shuttlebus between the new multimodal transportation center downtown and the Library, noting that would address the problems and complaints about transit access.
Services for Homeless Persons: The Library's location adjacent to the Urban Ministries complex (which is very well-featured in today's N&O in a story by The Durham News free-lancer Elizabeth Shestak) leads to the facility's use by the homeless during the day, a situation that drew different reactions from different members of the audience.
Natalie Spring voiced the concern that the building's closure for renovations would impact the homeless, who rely on the space to have heat in the winter and air conditioning in summertime.
Some other attendees noted that they weren't sure a library was the best destination for the homeless if they were using it for comfortable space instead of its services.
One woman, in calling for more quiet-study cubicles in the library, complained about the existence today of "so much noise – I guess the people from the shelter come over here, and they carry on a conversation, and you just cannot do any work." The theme also appeared on a number of the Post-In Note comments left for meeting facilitators.
Library director Auld noted that the department was working with Urban Ministries and the Coalition to End Homelessness on a proposed "day services center" intended to give the homeless a place other than the library to go during the daytime.
Museum Integration: Some back-and-forth took place on the question of integrating a museum of county history into the facility.
Durham conservative activist Jack Steer called the combination a bad idea, noting that in his mind, "A history museum is static; a library is live. That’s the greatest difference I can put between them.” While praising the useful archives of Durham history within the library, Steer called for a separate facility for any such museum function.
Steer was quickly challenged by an unidentified woman who noted that she had "worked in a lot of museums around the country, and they are not static; they are not dead." She claimed that museum exhibits change quickly and are ripe for interpretation in concert with the materials from the archives.
Tom Krakauer, the former head of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, made a formal call for the museum concept to be integrated into the planning. "As the Library has strengthened and embraced its regional branch libraries, there are fewer reasons for many Durham residents to come to the downtown branch," Krakauer said in a prepared statement.
Noting the natural synergies between learning Durham's history on the printed page and through exhibits, Krakauer stated that a combined facility would support a "mutual draw" between library and museum users.
Scherer did put a damper on one of Krakauer's rationales for a combined facility: the notion of cost savings from combining two facilities. “If youre going to have a history center, the economics of what you share is so small, it really is its own economic piece. There really isn’t any free lunch regarding joint economic programming,” he added.
Comments from Attendees: As noted above, one of the key events in the session was the posting of thoughts and ideas about the library's renovation using sticky notes, a process of facilitation intended to elicit thoughts from folks not comfortable speaking out in public. Here are a few of those thoughts from last night:
- This is a great opportunity but attendees did NOT represent Durham diversity
- If it was easier to get to the library on foot people wouldn't feel it is so disconnected. IT IS DOWNTOWN!
- Sidewalks: How you get to the library
- Please keep the main library at this location
- Showcase local authors and artists
- Help create a building where people would feel safe when the come to check out books
- We must flip the entrance toward downtown. Having a new facade is essential. This must be something other than window dressing!!
- Somehow make the Main Library both promised to be - and actually - safe.
- Remove center stairs and create open spaces that are easier to negotiate
- Make sure the library design incorporates something uniquely Durham - reflects OUR community
- Move it to a more desirable/more customer friendly/shopping-friendly/safer location.