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The Boston Public Library’s Central Library Renovation Master Plan

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The Boston Public Library's Central Library occupies two buildings, named after their architects, The McKim Building and The Johnson Building. The buildings stand side-by-side in Copley Square.

Normally, the circulating collections are in The Johnson Building, while the research collections are in The McKim Building. While The Johnson Building is undergoing renovations, some collections and services are moving temporarily to The McKim Building and others are moving within The Johnson Building, as I described yesterday.

Two summers ago, the Boston Public Library (B.P.L.) began to develop the Central Library Renovation Master Plan. The process began with a request for proposals from firms to help developing the Master Plan to renovate the public floors of The Johnson Building.

In November of 2012, the B.P.L. established the Community Advisory Committee. It consisted of Amy E. Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library; Rebecca Nordhaus, Board Member of the Boston Public Library Foundation; Bryan Koop, Senior V.P. and Regional Manager, Boston Properties; Theodore Landsmark, President of Boston Architectural College; Meg Mainzer-Cohen, Executive Director of the Back Bay Association; Gary Saunders, General Manager, The Lenox Hotel; Peter Sherin, Neighborhood Association of Back Bay; and Karen Cord Taylor, freelance editor/writer, Independent Newspapers Group.

Shortly after the Community Advisory Committee formed, the B.P.L. chose William Rawn Associates, Architects, Inc. to “lead the master planning process.” The architects consulted SN Consulting Group on retail matters; LeMessurier Consultants on structural engineering; Landworks Studio on landscape architecture; Cosentini Associates on mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, plumbing, and fire protection; R.W. Sullivan Engineering; Cavanaugh Tocci Associates, Inc. on audio-visual design; Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design on lighting; and Daedalus Projects Incorporated on cost estimating.

The Conceptual Master Plan is dated July 5, 2013. This is not to be confused with The Boston Public Library Compass: Strategic Plan, written by Gina Perille, Chief of Communications & Strategy, in 2011. The Conceptual Master Plan states, in part:

The City of Boston and the Boston Public Library commissioned this master planning, programming, and concept design study to explore improvements to the Central Library’s Johnson Building to advance the Principles for Excellence outlined in the Boston Public Library’s strategic plan, the BPL Compass…

The Johnson Building, opened in 1972, is in need of substantial renovation in order to continue serving Boston residents and the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the highest level. The scope of the study includes investigating opportunities for reenergizing the most public portions of the Johnson Building from the concourse level up through the second floor. The study explores ways to revitalize the library in the context of new and expanded library services on Boylston Street, located at the core of Boston’s public realm.

The study also seeks to identify how other mission-compatible enterprise programs, expanding on the existing services of the Map Room Cafe and Courtyard Restaurant, might help bring similar energy to the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library as they already do in the McKim Building.

This study follows previous master plans for the Central Library...Unlike the previous reports, this conceptual master plan focuses specifically on the Johnson Building of the Central Library.

Other simultaneous studies and projects for energy and infrastructure upgrades at the Johnson Building, such as the Cooling Tower Existing Conditions Analysis (CIPR) by RDK Engineers (October 2011), and the Book Sorting Room Separation from the Loading Dock by TMP Consulting Engineers (December 2012), have been considered during the course of the conceptual master planning phase. This study has coordinated its proposed improvements with those already planned or underway…

The conceptual master plan phase explores an early planning process. Future design phases will develop ideas for approval. No design decisions have been made to date. Community feedback and collaboration will continue to play a key role in the project during the design phases…

This six-month conceptual master plan is an extension of the two-year process that led to the adoption by the Library Board of Trustees of a strategic vision for Boston Public Library. Called The BPL Compass: Principles for Excellence, these values establish a vision for the future of Boston Public Library which has served as a framework for the Johnson Building conceptual master plan.

This plan includes significant improvements to the Johnson Building:

• Underutilized space is in need of refurbishment in order to provide library spaces that are inviting, stimulating, comfortable, clean, and safe

• Long-standing physical barriers to transparency and engagement should be addressed on Boylston and Exeter Streets, including granite screens separating the first floor of the building from the sidewalk

• A commitment to reinvigorate the library user experience is necessary in order to attract new and re-engage existing library visitors by enabling easy and effective access to library services

• New revenue sources are being explored to supplement services and fund deferred maintenance.

The Master Plan has four goals. First, to revitalize program spaces and improve user services. Second, to connect the Central Library specifically and B.P.L. generally to the city as a whole.

Third, to create an inviting first impression. Fourth, to strengthen The Johnson Building’s connection to The McKim Building.
This project is a City of Boston capital project. The first phase of work is funded at $16,100,000 ($14,600,000 in Fiscal Year 2014). The B.P.L. stated, “Cost estimates for the entire project per the master plan are undergoing finalization as the architects’ design development work progresses. City of Boston capital funding operates on an annual, July-to-June, fiscal-year basis.”

Boston Public Library utilizes many tools for gathering community input and feedback. The library hosted a January 2013 roundtable where the Johnson project was discussed, an April 2013 public program specific to the Johnson project, and a series of four monthly roundtables which began in August 2013. The library also collected ideas and suggestions on improving the Johnson Building through an interactive display in the center atrium during the spring of 2013.

In November 2013, the library installed a second display in order to continue collecting suggestions. In addition to all of the community input gathered, the library’s management team regularly collects input and suggestions from staff, and the library’s Board of Trustees have reviewed plans at their meetings, which are open to the public.

Under the Master Plan, The Johnson Building’s second floor was due to close to the public in the fall of 2013 to undergo first phase of construction and renovation. The construction project estimated to take fourteen months was due to begin in the winter.

The Children’s Library will move from the first floor to the second floor and double in size. The B.P.L. stated it will have “books and media as well as specialized early literacy, story time, homework study, and content-creation areas.”

Teen Zone on the mezzanine of The Johnson Building will be replaced with Teen Central on the second floor. The Boston Room on the first floor will temporarily serve as a Teen Room while construction is underway.

The B.P.L. stated Teen Central will be a “distinctive and media-friendly space with books, digital lab, gaming area, dedicated quiet zone, and homework and hangout booths.” In a blog post on Good Friday, Michael Colford, Director of Library Services, estimated Teen Central will open in March of 2015.

In that same blog post, he explained where the Fiction, Large Print, and World Language collections will temporarily be housed in The McKim Building.

One of the most significant moves will be the Fiction collection, currently located outside of the Rey Children’s Room on the first floor of the Johnson Building. The Fiction collection will be moving to the Lower Level of the McKim building, a space that is currently not open to the public. Along with Fiction, the Large Print collection will move as will the World Language collections, currently housed on the mezzanine. This move will take place in mid-June.

The B.P.L. stated, “Refreshed and reorganized collections and reference services with integrated displays of the library’s art, maps, manuscripts, photographs, and more.” Further, “Community reading areas and workspaces for individual and group projects.” In a blog post on March 26, 2014, Ms. Perille stated, “Nonfiction collections will be on both sides of the community reading area and near the elevators.”

Eventually, the World Language collection will return to the mezzanine, which will also gain a community learning center. In a blog post on March 24, 2014, Gianna Gifford, Manager of Reference & Instruction stated, “The Community Learning space on the renovated Mezzanine level of the Johnson Building will be a lively, open, and welcoming conversation spot for patrons who are learning English, preparing for citizenship exams, or who enjoy reading, studying, and practicing foreign languages. The library’s World Language books, test preparation materials, and literacy collection will be arranged in the surrounding space to support literacy programs, small group tutoring, and conversation circles.”

The B.P.L. stated other upcoming changes include a renovated “exterior, landscaping along Boylston and Exeter Streets, and a welcoming and transparent entrance;” new “books and reading recommendation section, updated Tech Central, café or store, and world-class fiction section on first floor and mezzanine;” a renovated “lecture hall and conference rooms on lower level; a strengthened “and accessible connection from Johnson Building to McKim Building;” and an improved layout for the loading dock.

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