Hennebery Eddy Architects
Renovation plans for the Astoria Library received a green light Wednesday.
After seeing two design scenarios at a work session, some Astoria city councilors said they would support a shift in priorities that would advance the project but could push back groundbreaking.
The scenarios include one that falls within the established $5 million budget and another that carves out more public space in the basement but could come with about a $6.6 million price tag.
When the City Council opted last year to renovate the existing 50-year-old library rather than build a new building, they determined renovation work would begin in 2019 and wrap in 2020.
But on Wednesday, City Councilor Bruce Jones encouraged the Astoria Oregon Public Library Foundation tasked with raising money for the project to go beyond their $3.5 million goal and try to raise $5 million — even if it means extending the groundbreaking deadline. That much money, in addition to money the city has already set aside, would allow the city to tackle the larger renovation.
The city has given deadline extensions “for a lot lesser things,” agreed City Councilor Cindy Price. She believes the foundation will have a better sense of funding possibilities and options by next summer. And, Jones added, if the extra money doesn’t materialize, the first, lower-cost scenario will still be an option.
Either way, said Mayor Arline LaMear, who is also president of the foundation, the design scenarios will be a powerful tool as the group begins to solicit money through donations and grants.
The first library renovation scenario proposed by David Wark of Hennebery Eddy Architects would cost the city around $5 million. He and city leaders refer to it as a “medium” scenario.
It would add large windows to the sides of the building facing Duane Street and 10th Street, allowing more natural light inside. It also includes the addition of meeting rooms and reading rooms; a shift of staff work areas and offices to the southeast side of the building near the parking lot; enhanced areas for children and teens; increased accessibility for people in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues; and a shift in where and how book collections are displayed and browsed. A number of books would likely move to a closed stack area in the basement, available to library customers by request but not necessarily to browse.
In the medium scenario, the basement is for staff use only.
In the second design scenario — the “large” scenario — many of the improvements to the first floor proposed in the medium scenario remain, but major changes occur in the basement that raise the cost by about $1.6 million.
The large scenario would involve a hole cut in the first floor with a staircase leading into the basement. The basement would contain, in addition to staff areas, storage and the closed stacks, more meeting and study areas, multipurpose rooms, the Flag Room, seating, artwork and a supplemental kitchen that could be used for classes.
Under both scenarios, a mezzanine above the library’s current reading area will go away and the library will address long-deferred maintenance issues such as aging plumbing and electrical systems, a roof in need of repair and lighting.
The city doesn’t have to charge headlong into the large scenario, Wark noted. The medium scenario is set up so the changes presented in the large scenario can be added later.
People who attended the work session Wednesday were, overall, enthusiastic about the renovation options, but were concerned about how the move to closed stacks might limit browsing, a concern also raised by Jones and other city leaders.
“I think people need to be able to walk into the library and discover things,” Jones said.
Closed stacks, where materials are searchable in a library’s catalog and can be retrieved for people to use and check out, are both a throwback to how libraries operated in years past but also the way many plan to operate in the future, said Wark and Astoria Library Director Jimmy Pearson. Ruth Metz, who led a 2013 study of the library and is a consultant on the renovation project, said there are ways to allow people to browse closed stacks.
“Books are not going away, books will never go away,” Pearson assured. He noted that much of the collection, which totals around 52,000 items, is already in the basement. He says the first floor of the library would display mostly new and popular items after the renovation, while the young adult and children’s collections would remain entirely available on the first floor.
Overall, City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill said, the design options seem “like a great balance of preservation and progress.”
“I wish we had the money to just implement this whole plan right now,” she said.