Visions of what a renovated Astoria Library could look like will be on display at a City Council work session Wednesday morning.
City leaders and residents will get their first look at possible renovation scenarios developed by Hennebery Eddy Architects that vary slightly in scope, scale and cost. The scenarios would not extend the library’s footprint on 10th Street and Duane Street but do offer more natural light, meeting and study spaces, enhanced children and young adult sections and improved staff areas.
The basement would be put to active use and the mezzanine, floating above the library’s main floor and home to the fiction and young adult collections, would go. Shelves — now set close to each other in narrow rows — would be spaced farther apart to accommodate anyone who might want to browse books.
City Manager Brett Estes said he will be looking for further direction from city councilors after the architects’ presentation: “Is what has been produced satisfactory? Is this what you’re looking for in moving forward?”
Last year, the City Council opted to renovate the existing, 50-year-old library rather than construct a new building, expand next door into the old Waldorf Hotel or branch out with a library and housing project at Heritage Square. The decision was rooted in a 2013 study of the library’s needs and options by Ruth Metz Associates. That plan, with feedback from the community, laid out a “vision of what could be ideal for the library,” Estes said.
The renovation scenarios draw heavily from the Metz study and take that vision to the next step: conceptual designs. Metz herself is back, as well, as a consultant.
Some of the work on the library will address long-deferred maintenance. The renovation project, under some scenarios, is expected to cost around $5 million. The city has already set aside $150,000 for design work and maintenance issues and $1.6 million for future construction.
The Astoria Oregon Public Library Foundation was created to raise money for the project and is led by Mayor Arline LaMear.
The mayor, a former librarian, has long been a champion of the library. Though she once pushed for constructing a new building, she supports plans to renovate. LaMear, who is not running for re-election this year, intends to continue advocating for the library when her term ends.
A theme that came out of the Metz study was the community’s desire for a “modern library.” It’s a term library staff say begs the question: What exactly is a modern library? A library with a new roof and updated electrical systems? A library with more computers? More books? Fewer books?
For Jimmy Pearson, the library director, a modern library includes a building that is caught up on deferred maintenance and with features the community has long desired, such as more light, meeting rooms and reading areas. A modern library also includes work areas that allow staff to do their jobs more efficiently, he said.
For now, staff process books and keep up on day-to-day tasks in dark, cramped back rooms. The basement, filled with historic artifacts and documents, acts as a storage space, but could function as more, Pearson said.
The needs of the library and how libraries operate has changed, he added, and “in ways they weren’t able to foresee 50 years ago. We have to better utilize the space and that’s what the architects have done.”
John Goodenberger, a local preservationist and member of the library foundation who has been working to catalogue historic items in the library’s basement, is a fan of the renovation proposals by Hennebery Eddy.
The library, designed by Ernest Brown and Ebba Wicks Brown, has a flexible interior, one that could be easily shifted around or redone to accommodate the community’s changing needs and desires. But the entire building, inside and out, still has distinct characteristics.
“The plan the architects are proposing respects those characteristics,” Goodenberger said.
For all involved with the new design scenarios, Wednesday’s meeting is the big test.
The Astoria City Council will hold a work session on renovation options for the Astoria Library at 9 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall.