As open as a book.
Leaders of the Lawrence Public Library on Sunday evening unveiled a proposed design for a $19 million expansion of the library at Seventh and Vermont streets that replaces concrete with large windows and turns part of a parking lot into a new grassy public plaza.
“Our eyes all just bugged out when we first saw this design,” said Bruce Flanders, director of the Lawrence Public Library. “We had been waiting for something inspirational like this.”
All four sides of the 40-year old building will get a new look, with long horizontal windows framed by terra-cotta stone, giving the building a more open and natural feel.
About 125 members of the public attended an unveiling event Sunday evening at the library. Among the design features highlighted, were:
• 20,000 square feet of new space will be added to the library. All existing spaces — about 47,000 square feet — also will be completely renovated. The new space will be built around the outside edges of the current building, meaning the library may end up being about 20 feet closer to the street.
• A 70-foot wide grassy plaza will stretch between the library and a new 250-space parking garage that will be just south of the library. The space is expected to accommodate a crowd of 500 people, and it will include a series of terraces to give the area an amphitheater feel.
• Meeting room space will more than double at the new library. The main auditorium will grow from 100 seats to 200 seats, and the library will include three additional meeting rooms plus about a half-dozen study rooms that also could be used for small meetings.
• The children’s area in the library will double in size. It also will include a separate area for storytimes, which currently take place in meeting room space.
• A drive-thru book lane, where people can pick up or drop off items, will be located on the west side of the building. The pedestrian entrance to the building will be on the southeast corner of the building, facing Vermont Street.
• New energy efficiency components have architects hopeful that the new building — despite it being larger — will use about 50 percent of the energy that the library currently uses.
Many of the major design features of the building, such as meeting rooms and additional space, were already known. But the public had been left waiting to see new exterior designs of the building. Lawrence-based Gould Evans architects had offered some preliminary designs during last year’s campaign for the project. But members of the public and some city commissioners asked for the building to be more prominent.
Jane Huesemann, a principal with Gould Evans, said that was challenging since the existing building would not support a taller structure.
“Making the building very transparent so you can really see into and out of it is how we’re trying to achieve that,” she said.
The library plans to host several public forums on the design to get more feedback before taking the plans to the City Commission for approval in mid-August. Dates for the public sessions will be announced in the next few days, Flanders said. Construction is scheduled to start in the spring and is expected to last for 24 months.
Reaction at Sunday’s event was generally positive. Some onlookers said they wished there was more detail available about what the parking garage would look like. It will be situated so the long edges of the garage run east and west, which allows for the plaza area between the library and the garage. Huesemann said current plans call for the garage to be about 10 feet taller than the new library building. If city commissioners decide to add another level to the garage, that discrepancy will grow.
But largely, members of the public were commenting about the possibilities of outdoor films and concerts at the plaza area and about how dramatically different the library will look from the concrete structure that is there today.
“I do like the new style of it,” said Andrea Bowen, Lawrence. “It is very creative, and I think it will set the right mood for a library.”