Imagining a New Library and City Hall: Design Initiative Launched for City Center Building on Market Street

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Thursday January 25, 2018

What do you envision when you think of a modern library? What resources would it hold, and how would it be different from any other library in the state or country?

Whether it’s something you love about the existing library or amenities you wish it had, South Burlington is encouraging residents to “re(IMAGINE)” a new library and city hall in a shared civic building on Market Street east of Allard Square, and south of Rick Marcotte Central School. Officially known as the SoBu Spaces 2020 project, last week’s public workshops kicked off the public engagement phase of the planning process.

Following a search process led by the South Burlington Library Board of Trustees and the city’s design selection committee, city council awarded a design contract to the team of Wiemann Lamphere/Humphries Poli Architects. Wiemann Lamphere Architects is a Colchester firm that recently constructed the new NPR building, which is both net zero and LEED-certified. Humphries Poli Architects is a Denver-based company with experience designing over 90 public libraries, including joint library/city hall projects.

At City Hall, outreach workshops to brainstorm ideas for the new facility were led by Dennis Humphries, principal at Humphries Poli Architects, and Steve Roy, vice president of Wiemann Lamphere Architects, on Thursday, January 18 and Saturday, January 20.

Re(IMAGINE) the possibilities

Long past the idea of endless stacks of books and stiff backed chairs, the time has come for a new vision of public libraries, and Humphries led the group through a thought provoking exercise to imagine South Burlington’s library of tomorrow.

Humphries described it as a cultural shift; in the digital age, the library is moving from “a warehouse of materials to a participatory learning organization.”

“We believe that now libraries are more relevant than ever,” Humphries said. “Communities need libraries—more people are visiting, using their services, materials, and programs-- more than ever before.”

At the heart of a vibrant library, a successful facility must embrace strong qualities, such as empowerment, innovation, experience, involvement, flexibility, creativity, collaboration, and sustainability, he added.

With this in mind, South Burlington has the opportunity to transform its library space to meet the needs of its users as well as create a new building with a strong sense of community identity.

“We want to create a livable community through buildings that ennoble the site, inspire the participants, sustain the resources, and bring joy to the users—part of bringing joy to the users is knowing what brings joy to the users,” explained Roy. “We can fill in some of the blanks, but it’s nice to find something special about South Burlington that can make it unique.”

“Think about what the library could be, not what it is today,” Humphries challenged.

To jog inspiration, Humphries shared photos of libraries from across the country and around the world of various sizes, characters, budgets, and amenities. Large windows to attract natural lighting, fireplaces to warm up the atmosphere, creative nook seating, a giant fairy tale book and a treehouse in the children’s section, 24/7 kiosks for checkouts, laptop rentals, rooftop gardens and meeting and performance areas were among the possibilities. These imaginative ideas helped inspire participants as they put pen to sticky notes with their own suggestions. The notes were later placed onto sheets of paper organized into categories, which included sustainability,technology/innovation, community/meeting rooms, children, teens, young adult sections, outdoor spaces and more.

Future Phasing and Funding

Following the outreach workshops and stakeholder meetings, a Purpose and Need statement will be developed and reviewed by the planning commission and library board of trustees for adoption.

In March, the architect team will present project alternatives to the public in two workshops. Those are scheduled for Thursday, March 8 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 10 at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Online feedback will run March 8-11. A recommended concept presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, March 13 at 7 p.m.

Once the cost estimate is complete, a single project will be presented to the city council at its April 2 meeting for endorsement.

In terms of funding, thirty percent of the library and 10 percent of city hall project costs are eligible for Tax Increment Financing (TIF). Tax Increment Financing is a local economic development tool used to leverage new property taxes generated by specific projects in a specified area or district.

The city also established an annual contribution specifically to a City Center reserve fund to finance this project.

“If you look at the Capital Improvement Program, which has been approved by the city council, that’s essentially a look forward to estimate what this might cost given the program information we had at the time that we made the document,” City Project Director Ilona Blanchard said. “We have $12.5 million for the building excluding all soft costs and land acquisition.”

In November 2018, funding for the project will be up for a public vote. Leading up to the vote, permits will be obtained and documents will be prepared. If residents vote in favor, the project will enter the building phase; council will need to authorize a construction contract in February 2019. If approved, the project is estimated for completion in early 2020 with an opening in April 2020.


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent