May 22, 2012 |

Renovations continue on South Side library for reopening in September

Visitors had the opportunity to walk through the South Side Branch Library during construction to get a preview of the improvements to the historic building.

The grand opening for the newly renovated Carnegie Library South Side branch is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 8. Library staffers referred to it as "Community Day."

The library which was first built there in 1909 was one of Pittsburgh's original neighborhood library locations and has received occasional criticism from residents due to its unattractive appearance.

The public got an advance peek at the refurbishing project still under construction on May 4 with nearly 50 people attending. Ron Graziano, Carnegie director of Capital Projects, accompanied by the architects and library staff members, acted as tour guide.

 The project is on schedule and within the designated cost of $2.7 million, which was provided by grants specifically assigned to the South Side branch, Mr.

Graziano said. At first rain delayed the project, but, later, "the mild winter really helped."

"We took the building apart and put it back together again," said architect Karen Loysen.

"This has been a long time in coming," Councilman Bruce Kraus, one of the visitors, said.

"We will certainly have a street presence with a grand stairway and ramp. It will stand out and will be easy to negotiate," Mr. Graziano said. He said prior to the renovations, the outside of the building "looked like an old moat wall." The newly renovated front entrance stairs is intended to mimic the original main entrance.

The project is expected to be "substantially completed" by July 4.

Allegheny Construction Group was the general contractor for the project. The branch is considered to be medium sized, with 9,000 square feet of usable space, compared to 31,000 square feet at one of the largest branches. The 9,000 square feet doubles the size of the space used before, due to renovations and redesign, Mr. Graziano said.

Library windows were shipped off-site to be reconditioned. "You are not going to find better windows," an expert advised Mr. Graziano.

A new elevator will allow visitors to use the second floor and the basement.

A small meeting room, for 15 to 20 people, called the "seminar room," is on the second floor, along with the staff break room. A large meeting room, with a capacity for 100 people, will be on the ground floor or basement level. The meeting rooms will be offered free of charge to non-profit organizations.

A nonfiction reading room and a children's room will be on the first floor. Shelving will be re-installed and "the collection will remain the same," Ms. Loysen said.

This will be the first historic Carnegie Library building to use a geo-thermal system for heating. Geo-thermal energy refers to thermal energy generated by and stored within the earth. It is considered cost effective, reliable and environmentally friendly.

"We expect a nice savings on gas bills, a 40 per cent reduction," Mr. Graziano said. The previous heating system was installed in the 1970s.

Air conditioning has also been added to the site. The building once again has a slate roof, similar to what it had when it opened in 1909.

Another important feature will be the capacity for plugging in computers anywhere within the building. "We will have all the latest technology," Mr. Graziano said.

Construction started on Aug. 27. The renovation plan was on a fast track since the grant money to fund repairs had to be spent by a certain date. Ideas for repairs had been discussed in recent years and opinions were obtained through surveys but plans were never implemented since other reconstruction projects took priority.

The South Side branch has a historic designation and that is why it wasn't torn down. However, generally, it is less expensive to build a new building than to renovate current branches.

"This is clearly going to be the crown jewel of the system," Mr. Kraus said. "It is state-of-the-art. It shows a great respect for history. Plus it allows for modern technology. It is a great blending of the old and the new. It shows a clear commitment to this community from the Carnegie branches."

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