Durham News

Bigger, better library on the books

When the new downtown Durham library opens in 2019, if all goes as planned, there will be more of everything: More space, more light, more computers and technology, more programs and yes, more books.

And if the project fulfills its promise, the library could be transformed from a solemn, drab building to a modern architectural landmark.

Last week, Vines Architecture unveiled its most recent plans for a multi-million dollar renovation of the Durham County Main Library. The Raleigh-based firm is redesigning the 65,000-square-foot building from scratch.

“We’re stripping away everything, not just physically” but conceptually, as library officials re-envision the building’s purpose and function in the 21st century, said Victor Vines, the firms’ founding principal. “We don’t see the building being bashful.”

The improvements include additional private study and community meeting rooms, an amphitheater, a business incubator, maker space to foster creativity and areas known as STEAM —science, technology, engineering, arts and math education — for both kids and adults. The new building will embody what library director Tammy Baggett said is “a place to learn, share, create and discover.”

Vines has also designed several Durham branch libraries, university buildings and cultural centers throughout the South.

The current building will close in mid-2017, if funding is approved, and a new 84,000-square-foot building will reopen in the same spot in early 2019. Library officials say they will make other accommodations for users of the downtown library while it’s closed.

The construction budget has not been determined, but will be based on the final design. Construction documents will be finished later this spring, with financing plans to follow. To help pay for the renovation, Baggett said she will ask the county commissioners to consider placing a bond referendum on the November ballot.

In 2009, a $24 million renovation was canceled because of the recession.

A place ‘to be’

According to schematics presented last week, a single entrance would be relocated to the corner of Liberty and Roxboro streets. Inside, visitors could be greeted by a Friends of the Library store, a cafe and a bank of computers. Upper floors would be flooded with natural light; the roof could even include a terrace or small garden.

“We want to physically express the ideas of discovery, community and literacy,” said Vines senior architect Jeff Schroeder. “We want this to be a place where people want to hang out, to be.”

The downtown branch is already busy.

Library figures show that the downtown branch had more than 2.4 million visits last year, with a circulation of 3 million items.

From 2003-14, attendance for programs, such as hands-on technology workshops, gaming, creative writing, book clubs, film screenings and lectures, was up 74 percent downtown.

With more and varied meeting spaces, the library can expand its programming for teens, children and adults to meet the demand. In addition to meeting areas, the design includes “nesting” spaces for private study. The space will also be flexible, so as to meet the changing needs of library visitors over the next 30-plus years.

The current building was constructed in 1980, when libraries were considered “introverted repositories of books,” said Bob Thomas, Vines Architecture director of design. However, the personality of the new library, with glass, open space and connectivity between floors and the indoors and outdoors, will be “outward,” Thomas said.

“There will be connectivity with the city and transparency within and from the library,” he added.

The number of parking spaces will remain roughly the same. However, the lot will move closer to the building, and with green space and a community garden, become integrated with the library.

The building will also be LEED certified for energy-efficiency, using natural light and possibly solar hot water.

“It’s not a traditional building,” Thomas said.

“That’s why I like it.” said Elsa Woods, a longtime patron of the library who attended the meeting. “It’s knocking out walls.”

Pivotal parcel

The library sits on four acres at 300 N. Roxboro St., a pivotal parcel as downtown Durham grows.

With Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, city and county services, the thriving Central Business District and the American Tobacco Campus all nearby, “There couldn’ be a better site for an urban public library,” Thomas said. “The library falls at the seam of all of those.”

A single entrance would be installed on the building at the corner of Liberty and Roxboro, “an important corner,” Schroeder said, key to integrating the library with the rest of downtown. Additional parking and mixed-use developments are planned within three blocks of the library. If the Downtown Loop becomes two-way, that will also change how downtown expands to include more retail, residences and restaurants.

In the midst of new development, though, the library’s architecture should stand out, Vines said.

“Even if I don’t know where it is, if I’m driving by, I should be able to know that’s the Durham library.”

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