APPLETON – The architect for the city’s $26.4 million library project has designed the building to bring nature in and push programming out. Now, officials want to know what the public thinks about it.
From 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, the city will hold a virtual meeting where Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago will review its conceptual designs and gather feedback from the community to shape the look and functionality of the library.
“We’re early in the process,” said Julie Michiels, SOM’s interior design leader. “There’s still a lot of development ahead of us.”
Earlier this week, the Library Board got its first look at the plans to renovate and expand the library, 225 N. Oneida St. Members were impressed with what they saw and heard.
“It’s really jaw-dropping, just the transformation of the existing building,” trustee Jason Brozek said. “I think when the community sees these initial design images, their assumptions about what a renovation of the existing space is will just go right out the window. I think there are a lot of folks who hear ‘renovation’ and think new carpet and paint, and this is unrecognizable inside in a positive way.”
Brozek, though, questioned whether the community would be concerned with having fewer onsite parking spaces.
Here’s a look at key aspects of the project.
Why renovate and expand?
Architect and senior designer Jason Fisher said renovating the existing building alone wouldn’t provide sufficient space to meet the library’s needs. The building dates to 1981 and has roughly 85,000 square feet.
Constructing an all-new building would provide sufficient space — 105,000 to 120,000 square feet — but would be more expensive and not the best solution for the environment, he said.
The combination of a renovation and an addition meets the library’s needs at a lower cost and lesser impact.
“Simply by deciding to renovate, we’re already miles ahead on the sustainability curve compared to other new buildings,” Fisher said.
What would change with the new design?
A lot. The existing library has masonry walls and narrow windows.
“It’s very solid,” Fisher said. “It’s not as welcoming as what you might hope, and it’s certainly not bringing natural light into the interior spaces.”
The addition, to be built on the south side, would create garden pavilions, which Fisher described as “a series of transparent volumes set within a landscape plaza.”
“These new spaces — these community spaces, these gathering spaces — kind of reach out to the community,” he said. “It’s welcoming. It’s engaging. It’s transparent, but at the same time, it has the ability to kind of bring nature into the building.”
Michiels said the fluid form of the new facade would increase visibility in and out of the building.
“There’s a lot of desire for views through to nature and an access to nature that we’re accommodating in this way,” she said. “There’s also a desire to put the program on display and have these sort of stumble-upon moments where you see an activity taking place and you’re intrigued and you go in to learn more about it.”
Will there be new features?
The architectural drawings show an “Arrival Commons” just inside the main entrance. SOM said the area would serve as “a place to read and meet and happen upon programming.”
“This is a space that the current library doesn’t have,” Fisher said. “You have an atrium, but it’s not a place that people can hang out.”
The first-floor plans also include an oval-shaped garden room that would be divisible into three rooms and have a combined capacity of 400 seats. It would be located at the southwest corner of the building.
A book drop and automated materials handling system would be located just east of the main entrance.
“It’s exciting to see your book go on that conveyor belt and find its way to one of the sorting bins,” Michiels said. “Providing a little bit of a visual access to some of those inner workings, that could be fun.”
A rooftop terrace on the east wing of the building would provide access to the outdoors for programs and activities. Skylights would be placed over stairwells to bring natural light deep into the building.
The children’s area on the lower level would be accessible through a “learning stair,” an area for readings and performances and even a small slide. The children’s area would have a garden for outdoor exploring.
Will there be adequate parking?
Brozek raised that question during the Library Board meeting.
“I imagine that the first reaction in the city of Appleton when they see this design is not going to be about the beautiful, open rooms,” he said. “It’s going to be, ‘What the heck? You’re cutting the parking lot in half?'”
“I don’t know that people are going to see walking from the Yellow ramp across the bus station as a safe and reliable alternative,” Brozek continued.
Fisher said the design reserves “a significant portion” of the property for onsite parking, but the number of stalls hasn’t been determined. He said there’s a neighborhood strategy for parking, noting a recently announced $7.7 million mixed-use development at the southeast corner of Oneida and Washington streets.
“There may be ways within our scope of work to kind of celebrate that connection (with the Yellow ramp) rather than just paint some lines on a crosswalk,” Fisher said.
Hiring a construction manager
The city’s Finance Committee on Monday will consider a recommendation to hire The Boldt Co. of Appleton as the construction manager for the library project. The service would cost $1.2 million.
Dean Gazza, the city’s project manager, said the construction manager will serve as an advisor in the preconstruction and postconstruction phases and as the general contractor during construction.
The construction manager “will only self-perform work if they are the lowest responsible bidder,” Gazza said.
Appleton budgeted $2.4 million this year for library design and engineering services and hired SOM as the project architect. The 2021 budget estimates the cost of construction at $24 million, split evenly between 2022 and 2023.