Cuningham presents site options for new library
A large crowd of concerned citizens sat among a group of interested parties at the Feb. 19 Community Commons Committee meeting to hear a presentation led by Chad Clow and his team from the Cuningham Group about the possibilities for a new library to be built at the Community Commons site.
Clow and his team presented four very different options for the Commons site, including two designs that called for a singlefloor library and two others that used either two or three of the floors available in the portion of the build that was built in 1926.
Option 1 called for the demolition of the 1926 portion of the Commons in order to give create a new courtyard while the new library itself would be built on the south lawn area and connected to the rest of the Commons by a corridor. The positives of this design, according to Clow, were that putting the library on the south lawn gives the best opportunity for optimal operating efficiency and sight lines as well as a single floor design that is preferable to the library’s staff and board. It also offers the best way to optimize the energy performance of the space.
“I think that I tend to agree that anything that is on a multi-level proposes a big problem for the library, mostly because we have evening and weekend hours when there are only a couple staff members,” said Kim Hennings, the city’s newly hired library director. “To try to distribute those few staff onto two or three levels would be very difficult. You have to have one person at the front desk at all times and then you have no one really to check on the rest of the building.”
A few of the drawbacks of this option are that building on the south lawn takes away much of the current outdoor play and amenity space and it also doesn’t address any of the underutilization problems that the Community Commons currently has.
The cost of Option 1 would be about $7.8 million, which would include the demolition of the 1926 portion and building a new structure on the south lawn. The new structure would have a $5 million price tag.
Option 2 was another single- story design, but this option left most of the south lawn intact, while adding onto the current 1926 portion of the library to give it more space. According to Clow, this option features a more flexible, open floor plan that would allow for future program adaptation as well as allowing for easy customer accessibility.
“In this option, we would be giving a new face to the structure and put together something that has something old next to something new,” Clow said. “Maybe one of the difficulties of this option is what do you do with the remaining second and third levels of the building? Maybe there is another tenant or program that can go up there and fill that space.”
The remaining two floors left over in Option 2 is one of the main drawbacks, given that it would leave whoever owns the building at that point to find a tenant or program to fill the empty space. Another problem is the need to level the floor of the 1926 section to bring everything up to the same level.
Costs for Option 2 come to about $5.4 million, including the interior demolition of the first floor as well as parts of the second floor and adding on the new portion while raising the floor elevation by four feet.
Option 3 was the only option presented by Cuningham that used all three floors of the 1926 portion. It allows for the most complete use of the currently empty space, but also obstructs sight lines, decreases public safety, inhibits way-finding and self-service and puts pressure on staff resources and ease of use for customers. There would also be numerous structural issues that would need to be addressed if this design was implemented.
“This was the most challenging for us to design in terms of trying to use all of the square footage and it is tough to redesign a building that was built in 1926 into something that works for a 21st century library,” Clow said. “With that being said, we feel like it can be viable. There are, of course, staffing problems as well as mobility issues. But we did discover that we could try to add some light by opening up the second floor since that was added in after the fact.”
Positives of Option 3, according to Clow and his team, include using all three floors, which could be a catalyst for other programs to contribute to the Community Commons idea. The removal of the 1987 infill of the old gym, which the design calls for, would provide a good day lit hub. The second floor in this design would be used for an adult section and the third floor would work as a cyber cafe and a group meeting space.
The figures for Option 3 closely resemble those of Option 2, but cost about $100,000 less ($5.3 million) than the second design. That would pay for the interior demolition of parts of the third floor and opening up of the second floor to allow in more light. The bulk of the cost would go toward the remodeling of the interior.
Option 4 was very similar to the third option Cuningham presented, except it called for the use of just the first two floors of the 1926 portion and the use of most of the 1989 portion currently used by the VFW, Five Loaves Food Shelf and the Clothing Center. Another drawback, which is similar to that of options 1 and 2, is that the third floor would remain unused and leave the school, or whoever owns the building at the time, to try and find a tenant to move into the space.
“This one is no new construction since it uses the existing building, but rather than a three-level library, we just used a portion of the 1926 building to keep it all on two levels,” Clow said. “The point of this study was to get the most function on one level as we could. A weakness for this option is that there are pieces that we have to deal with that don’t allow for the flexibility and spacing we would want.”
Other downfalls of Option 4 include the same structural issues that were in the Option 3 designs, such as fire protection problems, ADA requirements, mechanical and electrical problems and the lack of even light distribution throughout the building.
The final cost of Option 4 would be about $5 million, with the money going toward the interior demolition of the second floor to open it up and remodeling it for library use and portions of the 1989 building.
March 10 hearing
After its presentation, the Cuningham team fielded multiple questions including inquiries about the structural makeup of the Commons building, what kind of considerations they have taken for parking and what kind of staffing each option would require for it to run at an optimal level. The team had answers for most of the questions, but the ones they didn’t, such as the staffing issues, was something they stated they would take a look into going forward.
At the end of the meeting, New Richmond City Administrator Mike Darrow and the rest of the Commons Committee decided that the March 10 City Council meeting would be the best opportunity to hold a community hearing to allow the citizens of New Richmond and the surrounding towns the chance to see the designs and voice their opinions on which they would prefer.
“Having everything on one level, the sight lines and having flexible space to allow us to change and grow over the years is very important to us,” said Friday Memorial Library Technology Librarian Jennifer Rickard. “We want to build a building that will last us for many years. And if we are going to have that, the flexible space is going to be important.”
The Library Board and the School Board will both give their recommendations as to which design (of the four options for the Community Commons site and the current library site) they would prefer and which would not be viable at all.
“This is a public process and this is a process that has gotten a lot of comments and a lot of feedback,” Darrow said. “I want to go back to a comment that Jeff (Moberg) made at our last meeting about the whole process and he said that we need to work together, and come together, because in the end, this is a library. This is about where people connect, move forward and meet. They have conversations, bring their friends, bring their children and all these things. I think that is a good reminder to help us understand that is what this process is. It’s a library and it is about what is good about this community.”
Also included in the discussion, along with the four options for the Community Commons site, will be the designs and figures for the current library site, which were put together last year. That design calls for a open floor plan and many large windows with separate adult and teen sections to go along with a large children’s section housed in a large blue cylindrical structure that juts out of the side of the main building. The space would also include multiple large meeting rooms as well as a cafe and an outdoor community hearth on a patio space on the south side of the building. The main drawback of the space, as with most of the other options, is a lack of parking.
The price tag for the concept would be about $4.7 million, which includes the fireplace and chimney ($160,000), the cafe area ($225,000) and the children’s reading area ($680,000).
The March 10 City Council meeting is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.