$25M Main Library Renovation Advances Toward Early ’22 Completion

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – While preparing for the now-underway upgrade of Main Library, a member of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County’s staff came across a brochure from the 1950s about the renovation that was about to take place then.

The brochure touted the upcoming modernization of the old building and doing away with “all of those interesting details and the character of that side of the building,” recounts Scott Neill, project manager for AMHigley Co.

“Now, here we are, 70 years later, bringing it all back,” he says.

The long-anticipated renovation of Main Library is moving toward completion of its most recent phase and the start of the next, which will include a 6,000-square-foot addition. Work is underway on the basement level of the original building, a Carnegie library that opened in 1910, as well as the first floor of the 1996 addition.

It will combine necessary upgrades to accommodate technology, how patrons now use the library and even the coronavirus pandemic, with restoring historic features of the original building, including the Wick Avenue entrance and its skylight lighting.

“We do have some of the original plans and some of the original drawings in order to restore this half of the building, which is really cool,” Neill says.

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Gallery photos include Scott Neill, project manager with AMHigley Co., renderings of the exterior and interior lobby and makerspace and layout for the first floor.

Budgeted at $25 million, the renovation project kicked off last summer and is slated for completion in early 2022. Cleveland-based AMHigley is serving as construction manager with Dawn Inc. of Warren. Bostwick Design Partnership of Cleveland is the project architect.

“We are going right along, thanks to the work of our great architects and construction managers,” says Aimee Fifarek, library executive director. Construction of the current phase should be completed around mid-June, and might be open to the public as early as the end of July.

“It will really depend on how long it takes to get everything into place and to get staff hired and comfortable with the space,” Fifarek says.

When complete, the first-floor space will become the “family engagement area,” she says. Incorporated in that area will be an all-ages makerspace that includes a podcasting studio, story-time area, playscape, children’s computers, teen space, children’s collection and K-6 STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – space.

The lower level of the 1910 building, at the west end of the library, houses the administrative suite, which should be completed around the first of June, Neill says. In addition to new lighting, technology cable and audio-visual systems, upgrades to the space also include locating administrative offices around the perimeter of the level and collaborative spaces in the corners, with a large meeting room and modular workspaces in the center.

“There are a lot of walls and cubbys, and some people didn’t have any windows at all,” Fifarek says. The storefronts of the offices will permit the natural light to filter in “and allow people to have a decent workspace experience,” she added.

At the base of the stairs leading to the lower level will be a lounge area for visitors to wait.

“There’s a bit of demo to do there,” Neill says. “We have to tear all that block out in order to build that space out – a little bit of demo to do yet that ties into the upstairs first-floor renovation.”

Firarek acknowledges one of the consequences of the administrative suite will be that she ends up with a smaller office.

“It’s pretty good sized,” she says of her new office. “There was a lot of unused space in the middle. It was an awkward space.”

By mid-June, work should start on the next phase of the project, which will include the 6,000-square-foot addition, the renovation of the main floor of the original building and the entire second floor.

The second floor will house the library’s public access computers and renovated local history and genealogy space, as well as six small meeting rooms and two larger conference rooms, Fifarek says. In the 6,000-square-foot addition will be a 125-seat event space and the new culinary literacy center.

“We will be looking at finishing up the Phase 2 interior renovations at the end of 2021, early 2022, so the actual addition is going to be started a little bit after the internal renovations on the second floor, so they will finish at slightly different times,” she says.

Another aspect of the upcoming phase will be the replacement of the historic stairs at the Wick Avenue entrance, which will reopen for public use and “dovetail nicely” into Phase 3, renovation of the grand reading room on the first floor and the exterior landscaping, she said.

“The library was very interested from the get-go in reconstructing that original historic entrance,” says Paul Hagman, president of RBF Colab, Youngstown. He is a historic preservation architect working with Bostwick Design Partnership on the project.

Skylights over the main reading area will be restored, said Paul Hagman, owner, RBF Colab Architecture and Design.

The original Wick Avenue entrance was removed in the 1950s and replaced with the more “commercial-style” glass doors, Hagman says. The entrance will be restored down to bronze doors that will replicate the appearance of the ones that were removed and subsequently were “lost to time,” he says.

“We have the photos of the original ones so we’re able to replicate those,” he continues. Refabricating those doors will cost about $85,000, and the restored door frame will again feature the inscription, “For the People.”

From the original drawings for the entrance, “It’s clear that they weren’t sure what they wanted the inscription to say,” Hagman observes. “The original hand-drawn drawings have all this beautiful detail and it says, ‘appropriate inscription here.’”

Also being restored above the main reading area is the skylight, painted over and covered by a system of fluorescent lights during a 1960s updating project. “It will be a functional skylight at the end of the day,” he says.

The skylight glass is “a relatively simple pattern” of amber surrounded by green, with many of the panels removed or broken because of the fluorescent lights that were installed, Hagman says. The panels were originally manufactured by Paul Wissmach Glass Co. in West Virginia, which is still operating.

“The color glass that is in here is still in their catalogue but it’s not something that’s used very often,” Hagman says. “We just got word that they’re going to make a special batch for this project to replicate those colors.”

Other elements of the project will include creation of an event lawn for events and programming that will be accessible from the event space, Fifarek says.

“The event space will have a lovely patio as well that can serve as a pre-function space for those who are renting the room to hold events,” she says. It also will feature a view of the trees, shrubs and flowering plants being installed “so we can continue support our pollinators and our wildlife.”

Upgrades to building services will include installation of a new service elevator as well as needlepoint bipolar ionization equipment to combat the spread of viruses like the coronavirus. The devices were purchased for Main and other PLYMC branches using COVID-19 relief funds the library received.

While the project hasn’t run into issues obtaining materials or supplies because of the pandemic, Neill acknowledges that the pandemic presented challenges in managing the project. The biggest is not being able to meet in person with subcontractors, and there are few in-person owners’ meetings as well, he says.

“How you run a construction project is basically at the table. It’s how it’s always been done. That’s how I was taught to do it,” Neill explains.

“We’ve all adapted but it’s been good so far.”

Pictured at top: Aimee Fifarek, executive director, Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, outside the library’s main branch downtown.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.