The $3.1 million renovation to the beating heart of Buncombe County's library system — Pack Memorial Library — is speeding along ahead of schedule.
On a recent tour of the work underway at 67 Haywood Street in downtown Asheville, Ed Sheary, director of the Buncombe County Public Libraries system, says that once it's complete, the renovation will improve the 31-year-old library's service, boost the building's energy efficiency and improve several public spaces, including Lord Auditorium and the children's area. Public restrooms will be added, and the library's North Carolina Collection will get room to grow.
"The scope of this is to get another 20 years out of this building," Sheary says. "All of its systems will be new."
The library system, which includes Pack and 12 other libraries, circulates about 1.5 million items a year, Sheary says. It opened in November 1978 and was once the site of a showroom for Harry's Cadillac dealership.
Buncombe County commissioners earlier this year approved the project and awarded the work to low-bidder Charlotte-based Gleeson Snyder construction. The awarding of the bid to an out-of town firm rankled Commissioner Bill Stanley, who voted against it. But commissioners said that under state law, they were required to accept the lowest reasonable bid, which beat out Asheville-based Goforth Builders and Perry Bartsch Jr. Construction Co.
Sheary says that the project, which started about a month ago, is moving faster than anticipated. The original construction schedule called for the library to be closed for nine to 10 months. It's now looking like a six- to nine-month job, Sheary says, with the library shutting its doors in January for the work, although that's not set in stone. The building will reopen in phases.
The library's ground floor is already gutted. The floor will feature an expanded children's area and more glass walls to improve the look and safety of the floor. Lord Auditorium, already stripped down, will be reoriented to move the stage to the opposite end of the room. That will improve traffic flow into the auditorium, says Sheary, noting that the old orientation had the main entrance to the auditorium right next to the stage.
There will be some changes to the main floor of the library and its book stacks, but they won't be radical, says Sheary. The stacks will be moved slightly closer together, and they'll run perpendicular to the length of the floor rather than parallel to it. The main desk and reference desk will be combined. The public's access to computers with Internet connectivity will improve with a total of about 22 computers made available to users. And the North Carolina Collection, now situated on the main floor, will be moved to the ground floor and into a large space with its own heating and cooling system to better protect the materials, Sheary says.
New heating and cooling systems, new ductwork and new lighting will dramatically improve the building's energy efficiency, according to Sheary. The renovations, which also include a small ground-floor expansion and the addition of a fire-escape tower, will increase the building's square footage from 52,000 to about 65,000, Sheary says.
With the library's main floor closing next year, Sheary says the library is looking for another downtown space to continue to offer services to library users. Some staff members and computers will be moved out to branch libraries to beef up services there.