Salem Public Library to debut with new look and seismic upgrades this summer
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After a $ 18.6 million bond, seismic renovations and an 18-month shutdown, visitors will soon be able to return to the downtown Salem Public Library later this summer.
Guests will be greeted by a library with the same general location imprint at the Salem Civic Center. But seismic renovations and other improvements will protect staff and visitors during a major earthquake. The cosmetic changes, funded in part by $ 500,000 from the Salem Public Library Foundation, give the once dated building an open and airy feel.
Construction and seismic upgrades were paid for by a voter approved bond in November 2017.
Construction is expected to be completed in mid-July, after which staff will begin the move-in process. A tentative date of September 1 has been given for the public reopening of the downtown location.
The Statesman Journal was recently able to tour all three floors of the library and see the improvements. Officials at Portland-based general contractor Howard S. Wright Construction, a subsidiary of London-based Balfour Beatty, refused to allow media photos unless the photos had been reviewed and approved. by the entrepreneur before their publication.
Because it is against Statesman Journal’s policy to allow this type of control in the editing process, a Statesman Journal photographer was unable to take photos or videos of the site.
When city officials were asked about a private company controlling access to a public building in a way that limited the public’s ability to see taxpayer-funded work, officials turned to the contractor, who, according to them, has control of the site until the end of construction.
Salem’s Main Public Library, Library Parking Lot, and Peace Square closed in early 2020 for construction work.
The library collection, story time and public use computers have been moved to a temporary location at 1400 Broadway St. NE. The West Salem branch remained open until COVID-19 precautions closed the two.
Tree-themed floors, more light
On Thursday, City Librarian Sarah Strahl walked along the exterior of the building to explain the changes. The Peace Square and main entrance – once heavy from the gray concrete and block design of the early 1970s – will have a more natural, park-like feel. Trellises with star jasmine will meander along the sides of the building, and the tunnel covering the entrance near the Loucks Auditorium has been removed to allow more green space and a prominent, safe patch for the roots of a white oak. from Oregon.
The tree theme will continue inside, Strahl said.
The plaza level, which once housed the teenage center and a shuttered cafe, will be the origin of the building. Several community rooms will be available for reservation and public use. Clear glass in some rooms has replaced dated wood panels, giving the area a more open and accessible feel.
New flooring and rugs, coordinated with the theme of the tree, are present throughout the building.
The light-flooded first floor features the main entrance, adult fiction and non-fiction, media like DVDs and CDs, and cashier kiosks. Strahl said this floor is themed around the library chest.
Wood-grain patterns, leaf panels and painted hummingbirds dot the floor. The replacement of the closed circulation workstation with wedge shelves and the removal of the reception desk allow more space and light at the entrance. The relocation of a staircase and the addition of windows on the ground floor add to the newfound lightness of the building.
New artwork by Amanda Wojick inspired by a remote ‘family’ of waterfalls in the Opal Creek wilderness will be featured on the first floor.
Strahl pointed out several changes made and features kept with children in mind. An automated material sorter features a glass window for kids to peek and see the sorter at work. The fine wood carvings of woodland creatures marking the youthful areas were preserved and protected during construction.
Upstairs, at the level of the glass roof, services for young children and adolescents are now grouped together on a single floor.
Instead of sending their teens downstairs while their other kids are playing, parents can see them through the glass separating the areas, Strahl said.
The Story Time Room, a larger discovery playroom, and an intricate miniature dollhouse – which is also undergoing its own mini-renovation – will return to the ground.
The teenage section of the area uses the extra space created by moving one of the stairs. The section will now include an expanded collection, computers and study rooms.
Staff made sure to include several suggestions made by the teenage advisory board, including the return of a chalkboard wall for the artwork, Strahl said.
The floor will also have corners for children to snuggle up and read.
“When you walk in now, you will feel so big, airy, so beautiful, so bright,” she said. “But there will always be comfortable places. I think there will be something for everyone.”
Ensuring the security of the library for “Big One”
Not all library changes are as obvious as new rugs and windows, but they are some of the most vital, staff said.
The location, opened in 1972 and renovated in 1989, was not built to withstand one of the major natural disasters threatening the Pacific Northwest.
“The library and adjacent parking lot were built before scientists discovered that a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could impact the Salem area,” city staff said. “In 2014, the city commissioned an engineering study which found that the library and parking structure did not meet human safety standards. Library users, staff and volunteers would be exposed to a major earthquake.
Aaron Kimsey, program director at the Salem Public Works Department, said the structure of the building and parking lot is being updated to meet collapse prevention standards, which means people inside building could leave the library safely in the event of an earthquake, but would not reoccupy it until inspections are done to determine if the structure is still safe.
According to the project’s structural engineers, spiked walls spaced along the exterior of the building are a cost effective “tried and true” method and will provide strength and rigidity during a major earthquake.
The upgrades will also allow the building to comply with ADA and improve accessibility.
Other upgrades include replacing 60-year-old library shelves that would not withstand a major earthquake, replacing outdated security cameras and an audio system, and repairing wiring systems, plumbing and ductwork to reduce annual maintenance costs.
Ongoing community support
In 2017, city officials said the library had 337,373 items in its collection. About 1,600 people consulted 3,700 books and other library materials each day, and the library hosted more than 2,000 programs for children, adolescents and adults each year.
From August 2020 to March, the library continued to provide services such as 44,292 curbside checkouts to more than 11,000 users during pandemic closures. Library staff reported 18,325 interactions with customers online, by phone and curbside, as well as nearly 200,000 e-book withdrawals.
Strahl said the community has continued to support and use the library, even as times have changed. The goal of the renovation is to give back a library that can be used safely for years to come.
“It was really about trying to make it workable for the future,” she said. “It will probably be another 50 years before there is another big renovation. We wanted to keep it as flexible and adaptable without knowing what the future holds.”
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