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Library renovation moves forward

After years of discussion on improving the Main Library, Ohio State has finally selected an architectural team to conduct a feasibility study to begin a major renovation of the structure which has stood since 1913.

“In 1984 President Jennings was talking about a new library and President Gee talked about it theoretically, but with President Kirwan coming to office in the late ’90s, it started getting higher on the priority list,” said OSU Preservation Officer, Wes Boomgaarden.

A committee of 10 to 12 people, including Boomgaarden, Library Director Joseph Branin and Scott Conlon of the Facilities, Planning and Development office, chose the award-winning architectural library design firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbot from Boston to team up with architects, engineers and planners from the URS Corp. in Columbus.

“They were chosen through a whole series of criteria, from their experience with libraries to their connection with Columbus,” Boomgaarden said.

SBRA has extensive background in planning and design for academic institutions dating back to the original campus design of Stanford University in 1888. URS/SBRA as a team has experience in the construction of major research libraries such as Yale, Duke, Columbia and Cornell Universities.

The Main Library was renovated in 1952 with the addition of the book stacks tower and again in 1977 when wings were constructed. It is in need of a major face-lift according to Jim Bracken, acting assistant director for Research and Reference services.

“It’s not built to house people comfortably,” Bracken said. “Most models for modern libraries have a mixture of patrons, collections, technology, and they have nice views.”

Bracken said the library is technologically and aesthetically out of date. He also said the heating, ventilation and air conditioning are in need of total replacement as well as the electrical and lighting systems.

Boomgaarden disagrees with the idea that the Internet has made the library obsolete.

“Technology is, of course, an important part of the library but certain things don’t change – people need a place to think, people need resources to do research,” Boomgaarden said. “The faculty and graduate students have a real interest in print because, believe it or not, all the contents of these books are not accessible on the Web for free.”

The two-to-three-year renovation process, which will most likely begin in 2005, has been estimated at costs ranging from $60 million to $100 million but will not be allocated from the 9 percent increase in tuition over the next few years as part of the academic plan. Every two years the state of Ohio appropriates funds for higher education from its capital improvements budget which will be used for the library. In addition, $10 million to $20 million will need to be raised through fund raising and donations.

Boomgaarden said the construction will temporarily interfere with students’ use of the facility.

“It’s going to be inconvenient for a bit,” Boomgaarden said. “It will change where people go to get certain things. We’ll have to phase things in and move things around, but that’s inevitable.”

On Tuesday Boomgaarden, Branin and Conlon traveled to Boston where they met with SBRA to tour recently renovated facilities in the neighborhood and then moved on to New York to meet with more architects and observe their libraries.

Boomgaarden said he is eager to hear what students, faculty and staff have to say about what they desire in a new library when a series of meetings will be held on campus April 5 and 6 with the committee at a yet to be announced location.

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