Weber State University's Stewart Library undergoing $20 million renovation

Friday , October 21, 2016 - 11:09 AM

ANNA BURLESON, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Libraries are supposed to be quiet, but the south end of the one at Weber State University is anything but.

Men in hard hats laid tile, sawed through metal pipes and wheeled construction equipment through the building Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 19, working to close any external walls before the weather turns cold.

The construction is the first of a two-phase, $20 million renovation of the Stewart Library that will result in a modern, technologically friendly interior, higher ceilings and more collaborative learning spaces.

“It’s just going to be an absolutely terrific renovation, and it’s going to look like a totally new library,” university librarian Joan Hubbard said.

Project manager Chad Downs said phase one is slated for completion at the end of the ongoing semester, at which point day-to-day operations will consolidate into the new space and the second phase will begin. Phase two will finish in summer 2017.

The north side of the library was built in 1965, and the south side was built in 1973. Downs said the two buildings were tied together with a corridor in the 1990s, but much of the structure’s electrical, heating and cooling systems are extremely out of date.

“We’re increasing the building’s energy performance,” he said.

Downs said about $2.5 million of the renovation price tag comes from a state improvement fund, while the rest is funded internally by the university. Construction will cost $16.3 million, with things like technology and furniture bringing the total price up to about $20 million.

“The library just desperately needed it,” he said. “It was a central campus building that has a lot of functions on campus both academically and socially.”

Hubbard said she was so shocked she was at a loss for words when she was first told about the project.

“It demonstrates a commitment from the campus to the importance of the library,” she said.

Downs said there are countless construction needs across campus the school continually works to address. For instance, Weber State opened its new $77 million Tracy Hall Science Center this year, the majority of which was paid for with a legislative appropriation, and Downs said the school plans to ask the Legislature to help fund a $36 million Social Science Building renovation.

“We’re really, every year, hitting multiple buildings,” he said. “We’re not sweeping them under the rug.”

NEW FEATURES

Talks of a library renovation began in 2013, Downs said, followed by a feasibility study and student survey.

The anonymous student survey, provided to the Standard-Examiner via email by university spokeswoman Allison Barlow Hess, found only 12 percent of the 1,213 respondents used the library "almost daily" while the largest group of respondents, 30 percent, used it four to 15 times in a semester.

Students said additional technology support, more computers, open group study spaces and designated quiet spaces were very important to them, while things like large meeting rooms, large media viewing rooms and a cafe were either "not important a all" or "somewhat important."

About 47 percent of respondents wanted 24/7 study space.

In the comment section of the survey, student suggestions varied widely and included better parking, a meditation room, a smartphone app to reserve study space, more natural light and better furniture.

"Perhaps a reconstructed structure modernized to fit with a growing campus and generation," one student wrote. "The library should be a central hub for research and communication, in ancient times it was originally know as a Temple of Knowledge and the building should reflect this as well as more caterings to the students and staff to advance their studies and expand knowledge."

A few students had slightly more nonsensical ideas, including chocolate water slides and a picture of a dragon or unicorn.

Hubbard said feedback was also collected on signs in the library, and the building’s new look will reflect what students said they wanted.

The library’s books are being shuffled around into a combination of open stack and 13-foot-tall compact shelving, a much more efficient storage method than traditional shelving.

“I think all academic libraries are experiencing a decline in the use of their physical collection, but that is’t true in all disciplines,” Hubbard said.

This means the library’s four existing classrooms with 30 laptop computers each will be renovated, and some will be moved elsewhere in the library. The bathrooms are also being updated, and there will be larger, more energy-efficient windows.

A testing center for 90 students will also be added within the library.

Hubbard said more desktop computers and collaborative study areas are a priority, as well as separate, quiet study rooms on the third floor. With the building’s insides seeing an update, Hubbard said the temperature of the library is going to be a lot more stable than it has been in the past.

Downs said the library’s internal heating and cooling systems were out of date.

“That was probably Joan and her staff’s biggest complaint,” he said, laughing.

Hubbard said the library has requested healthier food for their existing vending machines, which will remain in the building once the renovation is complete, but she doesn’t know if the request will be granted.

Contact education reporter Anna Burleson at aburleson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnagatorB or like her on Facebook at Facebook.com/BurlesonReports.

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