Renovation of downtown library ‘right on track,’ KCPL director says | Kanawha Valley

Kanawha County Public Library Director Erika Connelly said the renovation of the main branch in downtown Charleston, which began earlier this summer, is going well, maybe even a little better than expected.

“We’re still in the demo [demolition] phase, but we’re right on track,” she said. “I think the plan is to be done in 16 months. It’s just going great.”

Envisioning what the redesigned library on Capitol Street will look like when it’s finished takes a little imagination at the moment. Surrounded by a chain-link fencing, trucks and other heavy equipment, the building features a lot of missing windows partially covered in plastic and a plywood barricade at the front door.

Outside, loose gravel takes the place of the courtyard and fountain overlooking the street. In the open space between the library and the old Kanawha Banking and Trust building, workers have dug down 6 feet to pour the foundation for the 110-year-old building’s expansion.

The inside would be unrecognizable to longtime patrons. Walls have been torn out and floors have been stripped down to concrete. Shelves, desks, chairs and books are long gone. Some of those have been moved to the temporary branch at the Charleston Town Center mall.

When Connelly talks about the library’s future, there are callbacks to the edifice’s distant past. Kemp Holmes, building superintendent for Paramount Building, which is handling construction, pointed to a wide, arching window that was being revealed through the renovation.

Long ago, huge arched windows lining the walls bathed the building in sunlight.

“They must have filled them in because of costs,” Holmes said.

The big windows likely would have meant bigger winter heating bills. Glass was more susceptible to breaking then, too. Materials are better now, though, and the refurbished library eventually will be able to bask in the sunlight again without all the cost.

It’s an upgrade, but it’s also indicative of the greater vision for the downtown library, which will feature larger, more open rooms for meetings and other gatherings, as well as smaller spaces dedicated to quiet study.

There will always be shelves for books and racks for magazines, but there also will be an idea lab with a sound booth, a 3-D printer, tools for collaborative teaching, and wiring to support the rapidly advancing technology of the 21st century.

Those amenities will come much later. Right now, crews are cutting through layers of concrete to put in new storm and sanitary lines under the basement, clearing out asbestos and pulling out anachronistic features, such as a dumb waiter and an old phone booth, which was all but hidden away on the first floor.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough to grab that,” Connelly said of the vintage phone booth. “Maybe we could have repurposed that with the teens somehow.”

The windows will be among the first changes people might see.

“We can clear one of those out in about four hours,” Holmes said. “We’re looking at doing three a day. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to see the changes happen every day.”

Holmes said he hopes to have the roof for the new addition done by the end of the year.

“As long as the weather holds,” he said, adding, “Barring anything really big happening, we should finish ahead of schedule.”

Connelly said they plan to reopen in summer 2022.

Source Article