Another Chapter: Study suggests renovating, adding on to EC’s library

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth

CHECK IT OUT. A consultant’s study recommends expanding the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.
CHECK IT OUT. A consultant’s study recommends expanding the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library.

A consulting firm hired to study the future of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library has recommended that the 41-year-old downtown building be renovated and possibly expanded or even replaced.

The space needs analysis by Zimmerman Architectural Studios of Milwaukee was presented to the Eau Claire City Council on Aug. 7, but the recommendations aren’t likely to be acted on immediately. Options proposed in the report range from a renovation alone (costing $8.3 million and $9 million) to renovating and expanding the library (between $9.5 million and $20 million, depending on the scope) to building a new, 100,000-square-foot library for as much as $29 million.

However, the report notes that building a new library “not only raises logistical issues but would be out of sync with the sustainable goals of the city.” Instead, the report recommends both renovating and expanding the library, which currently has about 60,000 gross square feet, into a structure of about 90,000-100,000 square feet. There are several options for increasing the library’s size, including adding a floor (the building was originally built with the option of being three stories) or filling in (or building on top of) the recessed parking area on the library’s lower level. The report recommends additions that would expand the library to between 89,000 and 102,000 square feet and cost between $15.5 million and $20 million.

What would the library do with the extra space? The study concluded that additional space was needed for a variety of reasons. More space could be devoted to books and other materials, and a “wide variety of additional areas to sit, read, and meet” could be created. (Patrons sometimes complain that there is no truly quiet place in the library.) The Youth Services area – one of the library’s most popular features – could be expanded, and the young adult area could be relocated. The report also proposes creating small study rooms to allow for collaboration as well as improving and expanding meeting rooms, and expanding and adding maker spaces.

The library opened in 1976, and the most recent renovation project was completed in 2009. At that time, $1.57 million was spent remodeling Youth Services, reshaping the checkout and reserve areas, and upgrading behind-the-scenes portions of the library.

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