The renovation of the Astoria Library will begin with a scaled-back first phase to kick-start progress amid a pandemic that has halted fundraising.
City Manager Brett Estes and David Wark, a historical architect hired to design a refurbished library, on Wednesday presented a proposal to remove a second-floor mezzanine that does not comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The library’s entire collection would be housed on the first floor using tall and movable stacks.
The initial work would replace two concrete panels along Duane Street to introduce more natural light. It would also enhance the children’s areas, replace bulky furniture with more movable objects, move the Astoriana historical collection to the basement for researchers and install new carpets and paint.
The project is estimated to cost $750,000, paid for through money from the sale of carbon sequestration credits set aside by the city for the library.
“The improvements that we spend money on now should allow for and be minimally impacted by a future renovation project,” Wark said. “We don’t want to spend money on something now and tear it out later, so we’ll have some long-term thinking going into which of these options that we implement.”
The initial work could include several additional improvements, such as a new roof, ventilation system, carpeting, landscaping and exterior cleaning, if more funding comes through. Estes said the city is working with state and federal officials to see if stimulus funding might help.
The City Council supported creating a scope of work for the initial steps. A majority of councilors also supported researching whether the city can tap into around $1 million from a memorial fund donated in 1998 by the family of former Mayor W.C. Logan for a new library.
“I think it would really transform the space, especially in terms of access,” City Councilor Joan Herman said of the renovation. “In a sense, we will be getting a new library.”
Jimmy Pearson, the library director, said transforming the existing library into a more useful, equitable space would still honor the late mayor and his family.
“Plus, it would also rename the library the minute we touch $1 of it — according to the judge — to the Logan Memorial Library,” Pearson said. “And so they’ve waited 23 years, or 24 years, for us to do something with that.”
The 1960s-era, concrete-sheathed library has remained largely untouched since its construction. The building was designed by prominent Astoria architects Ernest and Ebba Wicks Brown in a Brutalist-style architecture named after the French term for raw concrete — “beton brut” — popular in the mid-20th century.
The city looked at building a new library at Heritage Square as part of a mixed-use residential and commercial development, but went back to renovating the existing building. The City Council supported a full $7 million renovation, including public access to the basement, provided the library’s foundation could raise $5 million to go with the Logan fund and carbon credit proceeds.
The foundation has raised around $112,000 in cash and $70,000 in pledges. It secured a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that requires a $1.5 million match be raised within five years. The pandemic then halted most fundraising.
Estes said the initial work can substantially improve the library during the pandemic and build excitement for future phases when fundraising can restart. The city hopes to one day use the endowment grant to gain public access to the basement, he said.
“This is, again, a first step to be able to realize some successes in the library remodel, and to be able to develop some excitement and see some changes in meeting the library renovation project study,” he said. “And this can be done while the pandemic is continuing, and then starting to hopefully wind down.”