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Kanawha library plan to get makeover

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A trio of library experts has been chosen to take a fresh look at the new downtown Kanawha County Public Library that's been on the drawing boards for a decade.

Last week, the library's board of directors chose Providence Associates of Cottonwood, Ariz., to review the building program, architects' plans and property acquisition plans.

The current plan, scaled down in 2009, calls for a 113,000-square-foot building at the corner of Lee Street and Leon Sullivan Way, diagonally across from the Clay Center.

However, that design was based on assumptions made in 2002, library director Alan Engelbert said.

"Libraries have changed so much in the last 10 years," he said. "We have to refocus and move forward."

So the directors and their building committee put out a request for proposals for a consultant. They interviewed three candidates in late August and chose Providence. Engelbert is negotiating the final scope of the work and contract.

David Warren, the former director of the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, S.C., will lead team, Engelbert said, along with help from Kim Cullin of Zionsville, Ind. Laura Isenstein, the company's principal in Arizona and a librarian-turned-consultant, is the third team member.

"All three of the firms were very, very good," Engelbert said "I think [the building committee] was very comfortable with the people [at Providence] and their expertise. They have more experience in getting buildings actually built, conducting a [bond] referendum."

The last quality could be critical because the public phase of fundraising for the library has lagged. Charleston Mayor Danny Jones has shown little interest in committing city bond capacity to the project, saying the city has other priorities, such as the Civic Center.

The first step, however, is to see exactly how much space the new library needs for books, audio and video collections, offices, meeting rooms, computers and community space. That could change the design, and possibly reduce the size of the building.

"One highly specific issue is: What is the impact of electronic books and materials on collections?" Engelbert said.

"Typically, when writing a program for a library building, you project collections for another 20 years and provide room to shelve what collections you'll have. Electronic books and materials are changing that calculation."

The role of libraries also is changing, Engelbert said.

"We're becoming a community hub. We want to know: What are other libraries doing? By bringing in people who deal with many libraries, we want to know what the trends are.

"In the current building plan, we have a computer lab. That may turn instead into more of a collaborative space instead of a lot of computers lined up. Taking into account mobile devices, instead of a lot of stations we may provide a whole lot of outlets.

"The other thing that's kind of running through our planning process is Imagine Charleston. As part of the master planning for the city of Charleston, they've taken a look at the block the library is located on."

Imagine Charleston is the tag line consultants have given to the 18-month process begun early this year to write a new comprehensive plan and downtown development plan for the city.

People who attended a public meeting at the Culture Center last month heard the consultants discuss how the proposed library might fit into their overall plan for the block between Lee and Quarrier streets and Leon Sullivan Way and Dickinson Street.

Their plan eliminated most of the library's parking lot, but added a parking garage in the middle of the block. It also showed a new mixed-use building -- retail and housing -- on the site of the former Holley Hotel, as recently proposed by City Manager David Molgaard.

"They have some concepts we'd like to look at," Engelbert said. "One of the emphases they have is downtown living -- mixed-use retail, living and library all together.

"It's certainly not unheard of. We've looked at that for a long time. Before I came here, we looked at others sharing space with us. The idea of partnering with higher education. WVU has a presence in Charleston. Maybe we could partner with them."

Not everything was good, though. The Imagine Charleston plan pushed the library to the corner of Lee Street and Leon Sullivan, where many of the proposed 102 parking spaces would be located.

"Our big concern is, if they're doing a big parking ramp over here, where is the door?" Engelbert said. "They're expensive to build, expensive to maintain. Are we re-creating the same parking problem we have over here?"

Library patrons have long complained about the lack of public parking spaces around the Capitol Street building, despite the presence of a city parking garage a block away, on Summers Street.

"I think the exciting thing is the trend in urban planning is mixed-use," Engelbert said. "Our goal is to build a very beautiful, very efficient urban library. If we can accommodate other interests, other needs in doing that, we're open to considering that."

Library leaders have budgeted $10 million to buy the property they think they need for the new library, and $30 million to build it. Those figures could change.

"That's part of the equation," Engelbert said. "If we analyze our space needs and decide we don't need all the space, it may affect the [building] footprint. We may not need all the land."

Fewer books could lower costs, too. "Book stacks are very heavy, so you engineer floors for 150 pounds per square foot. The floors need to be massively strong. That's why libraries are so expensive.

"If you're changing where you put materials, it changes the way you build the building.

"This is probably a six-month process. The architects [from ZMM in Charleston] will be involved."

After a strong start, the process of raising $40 million for the downtown library and another $7 million for branch library improvements has slowed, Engelbert conceded. He hopes the study will give the project new life.

"We're looking to raise half the money privately, half publicly," he said. "We did very well privately. We have not done well publicly. Part of this is: What do we do? It's time to look.

"Our initial goal was to raise $25 million privately. We're at 18. That's pretty darned good."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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