Library Approves Architect for Main Branch Renovation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The planned renovation of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County’s Main Library is the type of project architects dream about, Richard Ortmeyer said.

Ortmeyer, principal of Bostwick Design Partnership in Cleveland, was formally awarded that opportunity Thursday when the library’s board of trustees voted to hire his firm as architect for the long-discussed renovation of the system’s main branch. 

The library board’s building and sites committee recommended the firm from among four finalists, and 11 firms overall, that responded to the library’s request for qualifications. Only three points on the multipoint evaluation the committee used separated the top three proposals, said Alex Benyo, chairman of the committee.

The hiring was one of two actions the board took at the special meeting. Members also voted to ask the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners to place a 2.4-mill, five-year renewal operating levy on the November ballot. The current five-year levy expires at the end of this year.

The main library branch, an Andrew Carnegie library opened in 1910, has undergone two major renovations: a 1954 project that removed the front stairs and period lamp posts from the face of the building on Wick Avenue and a major addition in 1996 that relocated its main entrance to the side of the building.

Libraries are a specialty for Bostwick, which was founded in 1962. Ortmeyer said he has worked on about 70 library projects in his career, and more than 30 since he joined Bostwick. The most relevant experience he cited when he interviewed was the multiphase upgrade of the Cleveland Public Library’s Main Library. “There’s a lot of similarities,” he said. 

“The board was looking for a wealth of experience, which Bostwick Design Partnership certainly has,” said the library’s executive director, Aimee Fifarek.

“We recognize the significance of this building being a Carnegie library,” added David Ritchie, president of the library’s board of trustees. “We want to preserve the history and traditions of the past but also provide the services and technologies that are so much in demand today. Our goal is that the modification of this landmark building will accomplish both of those things.”  

The opportunity to work on a historic landmark and having a library client that “really wants to create a new legacy for the future of the community” is what interested Bostwick Design in the Main Library renovation, Ortmeyer said.

“These projects come along once in a generation and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to work with this library and this community to make this library new again,” he said. 

Bostwick will work with local partners on the project, including RBF CoLab Architecture and Design, a Youngstown firm specializing in historic preservation architecture, and the Youngstown office of CT Consultants, a civil engineering firm that worked on the recent upgrade of Wick Avenue.

Having CT, which knows the systems and infrastructure in front of the library, was “a natural” to join Bostwick’s team, Ortmeyer said. 

The same was true for RBF CoLab, which lent its expertise to the renovation of the Stambaugh Building, now operating as the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown. RBF is operated by architect Paul Hagman.   

“We’ve done a lot of work on historic buildings but the kind of skill set required for the elevated sense of history and need at this library … really would require Paul’s expertise to help us assess how do we address those features and historic assets that the library has,” Ortmeyer said.

CT’s knowledge about the Wick Avenue infrastructure near the library will be key to facilitating the project, said Christopher Kogelnik, regional manager.

“Furthermore, we’ve got experts on the development side that will help to maximize the potential and the design for this project for the civil side, and help complement the good architects we have on our team,” he said. The building’s origin as a Carnegie library was just one aspect of the project that excited Hagman. He also cited the building’s pedigree as a project by famed local architect Charles H. Owsley, who also designed the Wick-Pollock House and the Buhl Mansion in Sharon, Pa.

“It’s really wonderful to be involved with another highly visible, well-regarded building in Youngstown,” he said. He also appreciated the opportunity to work with a “great organization” like the library on improving its “central asset.”

Bostwick will also work with a lighting designer, a landscape firm and June Garcia, a national library consultant, who will provide strategic guidance on the renovation. A timeline for the project will be developed soon as part of an ongoing conversation with the library, Ortmeyer said. 

“We’ll get started with design immediately but there will be some community outreach and kind of figuring out exactly what the details of the project are,” he said. 

Based on the proposals library officials reviewed during the selection process, Fifarek said she expects a design period lasting anywhere from 12 to 18 months, a process that will include public input periods as well as several design iterations. “Then we’re looking at probably as much as two to three years in actual construction after that,” she said. 

Much of that will depend on what happens during the design process and whether work can be done in phases to allow some operations to continue during construction. If not, some services will have to be moved to other branches during the project.

“I’ve never taken [closing Main] off the table, but I have committed to delivering services in the general area,” she said. 

It will depend on what is the best decision in terms of the timeline and the project budget. Considerations in closing the Main Library would include finding, leasing and making temporary renovation to any alternative space, which also would affect project costs. “It all depends on how the design progresses, so we wont really know about phasing until the final design is developed,” she said. 

Neither Fifarek nor Ritchie anticipated Main’s renovation being a major issue as the library goes to voters for the levy renewal this fall. The library has saved $21 million over the past two decades for the long-awaited renovation, which likely will involve naming and sponsorship opportunities. 

When the last levy was on the ballot in 2014, it had to be phrased as an increase even though it was structured to reduce taxes for property owners. This time, the challenge will be getting the message across that the levy provides half of the day-to-day operating funds for the library.

“The levy is critical to us being able to go forward,” Fifarek said. “It has absolutely nothing to do with this project.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.