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Aug 11, 2017

Denver Public Libraries to See Wide Range of Facility Upgrades and Renovations If November Bond Passes

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In a city where the population has jumped from less than 500,000 in the 1960s to nearly 700,000 today, it stands to reason that public facilities there would eventually feel the effects of the people boom.

That’s especially true of the City of Denver’s public library system which, with 26 locations, handles the reading, research, and community needs of more than 4 million people a year.

And the numbers continue to grow.

“These are places in our community where people are gathering every day to check out materials, use the computers, or meet their neighbors,” notes Rachel Fewell, the administrator of Denver’s downtown Central Library, which itself serves up to 2,600 patrons a day.

“They are very well-used buildings,” adds Fewell.

So well used, that a local committee tasked with compiling a list of city library facility needs has come up with a series of projects totaling an epic $68 million, out of a proposed overall bond for all city projects of $937 million.

And much of that bond money will simply be used to help the libraries keep pace.

“One of the biggest chunks with both the Central Library and for all of the ten branch renovations is for deferred maintenance,” notes Chris Henning, marketing communications manager with the Denver Public Library system.

“Buildings throughout the city, city-owned facilities, really do struggle when they reach a critical age and things start to fail,” says Henning.

“That includes the elevators and escalators and some of the HVAC equipment work, all of which would be outside the scope of what we could normally do in any given year,” Henning continues.

Nowhere is the need as great as it is at the Central Library.

A sleekly modern structure designed by architect Burnham Hoyt and opened in 1956, and then substantially expanded four decades later with an addition designed by postmodern architect Michael Graves, the structure needs up to $38 million in work.

As proposed, work at the Central Library would include moving its children’s library into the original Burnham Hoyt building in order to increase the square footage of what is currently one of the busiest spaces in the library.

“That space would then be turned into a conference area,” says Henning, noting that the while the Central Library currently has a basement conference space, “it is not very convenient to get the public into certain events and, technology-wise, is not meeting our needs.”

Reconfiguring those two spaces will allow the Central Library to serve more people and possibly, notes Henning, “even generate some more income because we would be able to rent out the new meeting space.”

The Central Library will also see an increased Millennial Generation emphasis on work space, notes Fewell, following a national trend that is redefining the concept of what a library is.

“We are looking at spaces that are more collaborative or co-working,” says Fewell. “These are spaces where a student can come in and either work alone or work together with other students at tables.”

Among the other library projects currently listed as bond items is the $3.5 million addition to the Schlessman Family Branch Library at 100 Poplar Street in Denver’s growing Lowry neighborhood.

Built in 2002, the library was almost immediately too small to handle the needs for a part of the city that has seen a notable increase in new home and apartment construction.

Work on the Schlessman library, which is currently the second-most visited library in the Denver system, would result in an increase in its overall square footage with the construction of community-centered spaces.

The Ross-University Hills Branch Library at 4310 E. Amherst Avenue, some eight miles to the southeast of downtown Denver, would see more than $3.2 million in a redesign of the facility’s children’s area, reconfiguring operational space, and replacing an elevator, among other things.

All of the individual library updating, renovation, and deferred maintenance projects still need to win the final approval of the Denver City Council before being placed on the November ballot.

“We’re very hopeful at this point,” says Fewell, noting that the projects currently making it to the proposed bond list got there “because they are the ones that didn’t get renovated in our last bond, back in 2007.”     

 

By Garry Boulard

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