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Workers scramble as they finish library plaza project

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Workers are scurrying to complete the $1.4 million Cleo Rogers Memorial Library plaza restoration in time for Friday’s dedication concert and ceremony.

The to-do list includes laying bricks around the plaza on the west and south sides of the building, filling in loose spaces between bricks with sand and installing a railing, library assistant director Jason Hatton said.

Resurfacing stairwells and the brick plaza surrounding the building and finishing the new courtyard to the west of the building continue, Hatton said.

The repairs have been needed for some time, according to Hatton. Brick walkways leading to the entrance have worn down and crumbled over the years, creating a safety hazard, he said. In the winter, water collecting between the bricks would freeze and expand, causing even more damage.

With Friday’s ceremony and concert approaching, Hatton said the construction crew and library staff have felt the urgency to finish in time.

“I think that it really has to do with determination. Everybody is just really ready for it to be done,” he said.

The construction crew has been working some Saturdays to finish before the ceremony.

When it’s all done, the library entrance will have new lighting and a new courtyard between the library and Columbus Area Visitors Center.

The courtyard will have new benches, wireless Internet access and electrical access for mobile devices, new granite steps and a wider handicap-accessible entrance.

The library is using a portion of the county library tax to pay for the project, Hatton said.

Friday’s deadline to complete everything is the final step for a project that began construction work in October.

On Friday, musical group Black Violin will perform at a “Live on the Plaza” event to introduce the new entrance and plaza to Columbus residents.

It’s a long-awaited day for many library patrons and workers, who navigated concerns about the project’s design and coped with delays caused by miserable winter weather, to get to this point.

What started as a 12-month project ballooned to 25 months.

Design and weather delays

The first delay occurred when library officials, community leaders and the public took about a year to determine the final design for the renovations.

The library, which was designed by architect I.M. Pei and opened in 1969, has had one prior renovation. In 1987, an 11,700-square-foot enclosure was built on the north end of the main floor of the library by Columbus-based architect Jim Paris with Architect Group, Inc.

Paris said he was deliberate in making sure he had spoken with Pei about the addition and maintaining the integrity of the original design.

“The buildings look like they belong to one another, (and) I think that’s what they’re trying to do really,” Paris said. “I think the plaza is important.”

Many residents were concerned initial plans to add new landscaping and benches to the plaza near the main entrance would negatively impact the historical significance of the original design.

After considering the public’s feedback, the library adopted a design that called for renovating the plaza to look nearly identical to the original design.

Choosing to keep the original design in place was the right choice, library board president Michael Wilkerson said, adding, “I think it was a win for everybody.”

It was important to the board that the renovation reflect what area residents wanted, said Beth Stroh, who served on the library board for 16 years until April 2013. She said the board had explored options that would add more shade and green space to the plaza initially.

“I think the effort to make their renovation fit with the historic significance of the library and make it safer for our patrons has just been phenomenal,” she said. “I think it is a perfect example of the value of exploring options, getting lots of input and then arriving at a conclusion.”

Once design plans were set, construction began in October, only to be halted when harsh winter weather intervened. Construction work couldn’t resume until the beginning of April, Beth Booth Poor said.

As the project nears completion, the front of the library might not look that different to the general public if they’re just passing by, said David Doup, construction manager with Taylor Brothers Construction Co., Columbus, which is overseeing the project.

That was a key factor in the renovation strategy, as the library board worked to maintain the look of the plaza from its opening 45 years ago. Public feedback supported such a design approach, Hatton said.

“The courtyard is really the biggest thing you will notice,” Doup said. “From a design standpoint, the front is very close to the original.”

Power upgrade

Part of the redesign that isn’t visible, but is important, is that outdoor electrical access has been added for performances on the plaza, Hatton and Poor said.

That could be a draw for groups looking for new performance space in Columbus, Hatton said.

“We used to have to pull power from inside the building,” Poor said. “It wasn’t enough to support any kind of performance (with) lighting or sound.”

Hatton said the library isn’t especially looking to program the space on a regular basis but hopes other groups such as the Columbus Area Arts Council will utilize the renovated plaza.

“We hope other entities in the community ... will take advantage of that space, really utilize it and make it something special,” Hatton said. “We can’t do that on our own. We need the community’s help.”

Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, said, “I’m really excited to have this opening again. I think that the library board worked really hard to make sure that they were doing the renovations to make sure they were sensitive to the original design. The library plaza had changed over the years, and I think a lot of us have forgotten what it was in its original format.”

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