Project teams transform quiet libraries into dynamic, community hubs
From technology hubs and training rooms to art galleries and makerspaces, today’s public library does more than just store and lend books. The broadening role of libraries has created a stream of renovation and construction projects that are delivering high-performance, multi-faceted and uniquely beautiful buildings.
“The trend in libraries is to provide more amenities. There is a bigger variety of spaces to serve different needs and the buildings are designed to support more community engagement,” said Michael Purtell, Senior Vice President of Gipe Associates.
Gipe served as consulting engineer for the new Michael E. Busch Library in Annapolis. The project provides residents with a 32,400-square-foot facility featuring a community room, teen area, tech zone, collaborative meeting rooms, expanded children’s area, vending café and makerspace. (Special rooms designed to support the creation of physical or digital objects, makerspaces can include equipment ranging from woodworking tools to audio-visual systems. Makerspaces in most libraries, however, contain computers connected to 3D printers.) The bright, colorful space both reflects the city’s nautical history and embraces current standards for high-performance buildings.
In 2021, USGBC Maryland selected the Busch library for the Community Leader Award: Innovative Project of the Year. The project had attained LEED Gold certification in part due to its optimized energy performance. The library design included a high-performance HVAC system comprised of a geothermal, water-cooled, variable refrigerant flow system in conjunction with a dedicated outdoor air system that provided heat recovery for ventilation. The design also included an uncommon element – exterior electro-chromic glass – to manage both light levels and solar gain inside the building.
“Sensors on the building measure the amount of sunlight and the glass will automatically dim a percentage to reduce the level of sunlight inside the building,” said Kris Curreri, a Project Manager at Gipe. “By reducing the thermal energy, the mechanical system doesn’t need to run the AC as much.”
In Baltimore County last year, North Point Builders completed a dramatic gut renovation of the historic Reisterstown Public Library. Built in 1820 and the recipient of a “patchwork of additions” over the years, the library was transformed into a completely modern facility.
In addition to installing state-of-the-art, energy efficient HVAC and lighting systems, the renovation created a meeting room, large teen room, revamped children’s room, a quiet study room and a Preservation Station – a DIY digitization lab for preserving photos, films and family memories, the first facility of its kind for Baltimore County Public Libraries. The renovation also created a variety of seating and workspaces throughout the building and converted a central courtyard into an enclosed space with a skylighted roof.
“The architect’s vision pulled together all the elements of a modern library really well in that space,” said James Nicosia, Vice President of North Point Builders. “You have a historic building with non-historic sections and this newly enclosed courtyard, but everything flows together great.”
While completing four library projects in Baltimore and Howard counties in the past five years, North Point has heightened its ability to deliver distinctive designs and myriad features of modern libraries.
“Our company tagline is, ‘We create remarkable spaces where life happens.’ Libraries are perfect examples of that,” Nicosia said. “Today’s libraries are active, vibrant places with more meeting and training spaces, computer labs and makerspaces with 3D printers.”
Library design now typically includes lower stacks and glass walls to create bright, open spaces and highly visible activities. And those activities keep expanding. At Hereford Public Library, North Point completed a gut renovation that added a full, second story and created space that serves as an art gallery with an active schedule of shows and openings. Gipe’s library work has included the combination Elkridge Library and Senior Center and the combined Wheaton Library and Recreation Center.
“Counties are combining a lot of different uses within buildings,” Curreri said. “A senior center, a recreation center and a library have very different needs. Our challenge is to meet those current needs and to provide as much flexibility within the space to adapt to whatever usages, technologies and systems they have in the future.”