The Historic Landmarks Commission has taken a first look at plans for a new downtown library and festival park as the city pushes these projects forward.
Gerry Jones, the city’s director of capital programs, said the commission would get a more detailed presentation next month as it is considering a certificate of adequacy for both, but he wanted to give it an initial look at two of the city’s flagship projects.
Though a new downtown library has been talked about over the past 20 years, Jones said plans for the $ 23.3 million library, which will be about two and a half times larger than the 14,500-square-foot Morgan Memorial Library across the street Town hall, are ready to move forward. The new library, like the current one, will be located on West Washington Street in a city block bounded by South Street, Lee Street and Jackson Street.
“It’s going now and it’s going now,” said Jones. “I’m happy to say it is ready to move forward. The council financed it – now about two-thirds. We have a little more funding in this coming CIP and (the) next CIP. We’re moving forward, and it’s a real thing now. “
Chuck Wray, a construction manager at Quinn Evans Architects, outlined the library project for the assignment, detailing its scope and elements, including site features, architectural concepts, and building materials to be used. Wray also briefed the city council about the project about two months ago.
He said the city’s new library, like others he has worked on, can be a catalyst for revitalizing the community with potential for economic development.
“Libraries are magnets,” said Wray. “They improve the quality of the properties around them, not just on the land they are on.”
The property is fairly flat and currently has several buildings but these are being demolished to make way for the library.
“The project will not be able to save any of these structures,” said Wray. “They are old (and) they do not serve the purpose of a new library, but we definitely want to recognize the value of these projects, these buildings in this context.”
He said a variety of buildings in the central downtown area informed him of the size and scope of the new library. They studied old city maps to get a feel for how real estate has evolved over time “and to really understand how to break something that is such a large piece of land into a scale that is more accessible and manageable “. and it represents more of the pattern language that exists in the community. “
As with other city centers he has experience, Wray said that many of the lots in the city are long, narrow, and off the road, “and we started thinking about how we could use the parcels that were originally part of this particular place. be able to reinterpret. “
Wray said Quinn Evans worked closely with Jones and the city’s public works department on the new stormwater basin that will run west of Lee Street. He said this helped develop some figurative design elements, with long bezel poles that helped break the library program into manageable sizes, organize the site, and relate it to West Washington Street on a manageable scale give.
The West Washington Street library front is set back from the street to allow for a modest entrance space on the corner of South Street. Wray said there would be a Suffolk Transit bus stop near the library but its location has yet to be determined.
Wray said they want the front of the building to blend in with the urban landscape and the back, which borders Jackson Street, to feel more neighborly, open, and playful. He said the library would have 41 parking spaces in the back and another 13 on Lee Street. The project can contain up to 55 places. But between that and parking on the street, that should be more than enough, according to Wray.
Wray said the property’s exposure to the sun is important, and since West Washington Street is north facing, there would be large amounts of north facing light that will help reduce glare and make the library transparent “and as yours to act as your own billboard ”.
There will be library entrances on both West Washington Street and Jackson Street. The staff entrance will be on Lee Street, while there will be an adjacent fire exit and drop-off point for caterers and a book drop-off area.
A decision has not yet been made on plant species to be placed on the site, but Wray said trees to be planted on West Washington Street will likely be reinforced with large deciduous trees and planting material placed on Lee Street due to the west facing shade and buffer to provide the side.
Between the parking lot and Jackson Street, Wray said there would be more of an organic planting of trees and smaller ornamental trees in addition to a reading garden and an outdoor activity room in that area.
Wray believes that a linear park would be an outside extension of the indoor conference room, with smaller ornamental trees in the front that wouldn’t obscure the view of the library. There are also plans to set up an outdoor play area for children in the back of the library.
As for the materials to be used for the site, Wray said, the plan includes concrete paving stones at the front entrance on West Washington Street and seating walls to mimic long linear elements of the foundation found in the linear park, and it looks like raised planting beds in the children’s area, where a soft play area is thought of.
He said they hope to have Lee Street as an “elevated traffic table” that is six inches above the sidewalk to make it more pedestrian-friendly and to slow down traffic.
“Our biggest puzzle to solve so far was how to address Lee Street,” said Wray.
It was planned to be a one-way street from West Washington Street to Jackson Street. Wray said, however, that they are looking at ways to manage both pedestrian and vehicular traffic – people coming to and from the library, a straight through garage for the library-to-go van, access to street parking and provide access to the dumpster.
“We can’t leave Lee Street in a way to accommodate all of this,” Wray said. “And we held preliminary talks with planning and traffic engineering, and I think we have general support for this, but we still have to work out some things, especially with regard to access to some private properties … we have to understand that.” So we determine where Lee Street becomes in one direction or in one direction, we are still working on that. “
He anticipates access to the parking lot will be from Jackson Street and said Lee Street must be wide enough to accommodate Suffolk Fire & Rescue vehicles “for the sake of life safety.”
The four main components inside include library administration rooms, public assembly rooms, areas for children, teenagers and adults.
For the interior, Wray said the building would have two floors, but not on each floor. The children’s and youth areas as well as the meeting rooms would be on the lower level. The adult area, study rooms and additional administrative rooms would be on the upper floor. There would also be enclosed, shielded mechanical devices on the roof.
It looks for a “civil celebrity” at the front of the building.
“This is a civil building, but it should be an accessible building,” Wray said. “It should be a building that says to people, ‘We want you to come here and stay for a while.'”
He provided both exterior and interior representations of the design for the commission and suggested building materials for the library.
The festival park, Jones said, would create an outdoor area that compliments library activities while providing additional amenities for the public. He showed the commission renderings of the park.
He explained the process of the city’s property acquisitions following the 2020 tornado that severely damaged properties in South Saratoga and West Washington Streets.
Jones said the festival park could draw more than 100,000 additional people downtown annually to support restaurants, retail and other services.
While it wouldn’t have a permanent toilet area, it would have a screened area to support portable toilets and there would be a prominent memorial entrance on the corner of West Washington and South Saratoga Streets.
Jones said the city must get a certificate from the commission next month to remove the tornado-damaged old Brandon House Furniture building. He said the building contains recyclable items that it can use elsewhere, mostly granite tiles that it plans to salvage at the train station and use for repairs there.
In addition, a uniform wayfinding package is to be promoted to guide people to parking lots and other inner city areas.
Jones said the city plans to demolish the buildings on the new downtown library lot – currently used by the Parks and Recreation Department, which is moving to a new operations center on Carolina Road later this month – and the Brandon House Furniture in the first part of next year “to eliminate all public nuisance in the city center” until both projects are built.
Along the edge of the festival park, Jones said there would be a separation between pedestrians and traffic on West Washington Street. There will also be an area to assist vendors for events, and there will be around 12 to 15 parking spaces on the parking lot.
He said both projects would be of great benefit to residents.
“The reason we wanted to show you both projects, the library and the park, at the same time,” said Jones, “is their close proximity and the huge impact they will have on this part of West Washington Street and downtown.”