By Kate Snyder
In order to bring Salem’s 50-year-old public library into modern compliance and improve the building’s accessibility, the design team behind the project had to get creative. The City of Salem partnered on the renovation with Howard S. Wright Construction and Hacker Architects, according to city records. The driving force behind the renovation was that the original building was constructed before scientists discovered that an earthquake off the coast could impact the Salem region. A seismic retrofit was determined to be the best upgrade for the building to increase safety during an earthquake. Improved accessibility and cost-saving upgrades to the building’s systems were also part of the project, which was ultimately completed last year.
Located at 585 Liberty St SE, the 96,000 square foot Salem Public Library serves more than 165,000 people in the Salem area annually and maintains a collection of 337,000 items, according to city records. Each day, approximately 1,600 people check out 3,700 books and library materials, and the library hosts more than 2,000 programs for children, teens and adults annually. The building was constructed in 1972, before ADA requirements, and needed improvements for it to be brought into ADA compliance. In November 2017, local voters passed a bond for $18.6 million to address seismic, safety, accessibility and system improvements to the library.
During the 18 months of construction, along with renovations to make the building safer in an earthquake and more accessible, other critical improvements were completed, such as updates to the heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical and roof, the addition of solar panels, more windows and upgrades to the parking lot.
Through a partnership with the library team, Hacker established a vision to create a space that is welcoming, safe and flexible while enriching a connection between people and their community. Library staff and back of house spaces are now consolidated on the lower floor for greater efficiency and functionality, while active public spaces are found primarily on the upper two levels. Youth services were previously separated by several floors but are now relocated to the top level along with new spaces for the “Teen Scene” and children’s areas to allow for greater sharing of resources as well as improved operations. The “Discovery Room” was also relocated to the children’s area. The lower level plaza opens up to the main entrance, adjacent to a “maker space” for hands-on learning, meeting and conference space and a community room to accommodate larger events after regular library hours.
“To create a more pleasant, cohesive library experience for patrons, the design reimagines how different spaces with different functions relate to one another – staff spaces vs. public spaces, the needs of library sections serving different age groups, quiet zones, noisy zones [and] high-traffic areas,” Hacker stated. “The design brings daylight into the core of the large, fortress-like building, which transforms an inward-facing brutalist-era structure into a bright, voluminous space that invites the community in.”
The design team’s challenge, according to the city, was to both find a seismic retrofit solution that didn’t adversely impact the library space as well as finish the project within budget in a busy and expensive construction market. Hacker has designed a number of library projects, such as the Ledding Library in Milwaukie, Ore., the Woodland Library in Woodland, Wash., and the Alaska State Library in Juneau, according to the firm’s website. The design-build team was “uniquely positioned” to address the unknowns of the renovation project in Salem.
“With almost no wiggle room in a utilitarian budget, the design team for Salem Public Library needed to get creative finding ways to make every dollar spent do double-duty,” Hacker’s website states. “Each aspect of the design is filtered through a practical lens of how each choice can contribute to improved seismic and life safety, from shelving and furniture to circulation, visibility, and new points of entry.”