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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Options for the Main Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 30, 2016

Last week, I talked about the accessibility of the Main Library building, and the project that will hopefully correct that situation.


The architectural firm of Valentour, English, Bodnar & Howell of Pittsburgh was hired to review the building and develop various options to make the facility accessible.


During the process, I learned that our Main Library is now the only public library building remaining in Ohio that is not handicapped accessible which I find to be a sad designation.


Much of the blame goes to the original design of the 1902 building, specifically, the fact that the structure has no street-level entrance.


Often, Carnegie Library buildings can be altered with access through another entrance, but not the building here.  The other two Carnegie Libraries in Ohio constructed at the same time as ours both have had major renovations to correct the accessibility issue.


The Sandusky Library spent more than $ 10 million several years ago to correct their accessibility problem and connect their building to an adjoining structure of similar vintage.


The East Liverpool Library has worked for years renovating their building for accessibility.


Our Carnegie Library has been well-maintained over the years, and it is time to make it fully-accessible for public use.


I was excited to see the options that the architectural firm presented to the staff and Library Board.  We told them we wanted to see all of the options, both good and bad.


The first two options incorporated a ramp in the front with two “switchbacks” needed to climb the elevation to reach the front door.  The whole thing was hidden by a stone wall so as not to disrupt the view of the historic façade of the building.


The third option added a new stair tower and elevator in the rear of the building at the only location that all levels of the building meet.


The fourth option used the Bookmobile garage area on Slack Street as a new street-level entrance to the building with new interior stairs and elevator to access all levels.


Two more options incorporated various parts of the other options.  People attending the meeting had remained quiet as the options were presented, and waited to discuss all of the options until the presentation was completed.


I hoped that no one liked the ramps, they seemed impractical to me and the thought of someone either walking up a ramp with two turns, or pushing a wheelchair up any ramp caused me to groan.


The new rear entrance was “okay,” but it was out-of-sight and far from the parking lots that the library has been constructing over the past 15 years for library users.


I really liked the new entrance on Slack Street, and soon found agreement that this option was everyone’s favorite.


The rear wall of the Carnegie Building, which is now hidden behind the garage wall would emerge and be restored as a feature of the new entrance.


Amid all the excitement was the realization that you can’t fix one thing on a 115 year old building without impacting other things.


That led to the work on the Master Plan for the building.  What functions go on here, and what will the future bring to the facility?


The new entrance lobby, the new access points, and the public service desks are great, but don’t function well with the existing space and create some odd walkways and connections.


Public and staff spaces were running into each other, and public hallways were crossing private staff work spaces. 


I didn’t want renovations to allow accessibility to create more problems than it solved.


That led to an exhaustive review of the Main Library and the staff and public functions that take place in the building.


Many of the tasks performed here relate to the six branch libraries in the system, as well as the Bookmobile which operates county-wide from this building.


And, in this whole process, the Bookmobile would lose its home and need a new place to park and load its collection.


The complex project just keeps getting more complex.