PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert here again with the much-desired, frequently-requested update as to where we are with renovations.
The truism is that you have to have a solid foundation and that is what architect Rebecca Naomi Weld, founder of Renew Architecture & Design said she is working on with contractors.
Work has been delayed mainly due to issues at the foundation level, but also as a result of the historic nature of the building, Ms. Weld said.
Contractors with Continental Construction of Gouverneur, the company doing the work, cut a series of holes into the library floor where steel beams will be located to support the new second-floor mezzanine; however, there were some issues when it came with the alignment of the blueprints for the library and the blueprints with the basement, resulting in the delays, Ms. Weld said.
“When we go to connect these dots down below, we had very accurate drawings of the two,” she said, “but they were slightly off in terms of where they were, relative to each other–just a couple of inches–but that did mean that we had to adjust the steel frame to be able to do that.”
Moreover, there was a concern with doing work in the basement because it is occupied by tenants other than the library, so to avoid disturbing the other tenants, “plastic cages” or enclosures have been created where each of the posts will be installed.
Inside one of the enclosures, Ms. Weld points to the cuts in the existing floor in order to get into the ground underneath. Above that cut, she points to the matching cut in the ceiling that is also the library floor. In the way of that hole are two pipes, one being a water main, that Ms. Weld said has become part of the infrastructure since the original blueprints were created.
Because it was not on their radar, Ms. Weld said a change order had to be created with the contractor for any additional costs. A relatively minor change, but a delay, she said.
Contractors have been working around other existing infrastructure they’ve encountered, including existing steel posts they don’t want to disturb. Ms. Weld said they are placing structures and steel beam supports around them to avoid disturbing the structural integrity of the existing building.
Cutting into the concrete slab of the basement floor, an old sewer main pipe was also discovered. Ms. Weld said it was undetermined as to whether it was still working and could come from the original 1937 construction of the building.
“When this building was first built there were several sets of changing rooms and bathrooms. The bathrooms for the people who were coming to see the theater were up here more towards the front, Park Street side of the building here, and then back here there were changing rooms and locker rooms,” she said. “So this could be a pipe from 1937 but we can’t just cut it out and find out later that it was actually the water main that goes to the water in the back, so we had to extend that footer.”
Of the nine beams in total, the beams on the floor across from the Friends of the Library bookstore will be covered with custom-made bookcases that will cover the structure and replace the existing bookcases in front of the bookstore.
In the corner of the basement next to the doorway leading into the offices of the St. Lawrence Arts Council and Village Planning and Development offices, contractors are working to “shoehorn” a post in very close to an existing post; the space beyond it had a closet for the equipment of the elevator.
“And of course, we need some of that space where the equipment for the elevator is for a footer,” she said. “In the end, it will just be changes under the ground, but we got permission from the Village to very temporarily shut down the elevator, pull the equipment out of the way, build our footer, put the equipment back in.
“And, of course, there is a pipe there, an old pipe that has asbestos, and they remediated 85 feet of asbestos pipe . . .” she said.
Ms. Weld said they also made some starting assumptions about the soil conditions and about the existing foundation, but it is an existing building with a slab covering all of that.
“So we had to do our best guess and it turned out that our best guess was a bit optimistic,” she said. “So that causes a delay in that they did what we had drawn and then when they saw some of those conditions we had to literally go back to the drawing board.”
“So the long and short of it is, there was a delay because we had to revisit what those situations were going to be, but now we have a plan and we are very close to them coming back in and moving,” she said.
From there, she said work should be able to proceed fairly smoothly but all of it essential, especially due to the weight the steel beams will carry.
“That’s going to have books on it as well,” Ms. Weld said of the mezzanine, “so that is a whole other level of structural load, and there is nothing heavier than books. So we didn’t want to set two floors of books on one old, 1937 steel frame.”
In addition to the Phase One mezzanine project, the first of three phases, Phase Two will see the 1976 drop ceiling with the fluorescent lighting removed to create eight more feet of ceiling space, showcase the original ceiling which has a historic cornice around the whole perimeter and make room for the mezzanine, which she said would currently only have a six-foot ceiling with the drop ceiling in place.
The new mezzanine will create a second floor that will cover about a third of the existing library floor, where there will be a new children’s area.
The restorations to the rest of the library’s main reading room will only complement the mezzanine, she said, including not just the restoration of the cornice around the ceiling, but also new “more historically-pleasing” lights, exposing some of the details around the back wall, where the staff offices are located and what was previously the stage of the auditorium.
“There are pilasters that we can see the base of on the walls but we can’t see the tops of them but they do exist,” Ms. Weld said. “And then the hardwood floor from when it was an auditorium has been covered with carpet.”
While some of that hardwood floor will be restored, Ms. Weld said carpeting will likely remain in the children’s area in order to mute some of the sounds there.
The library will also be fashioned with a new heating and cooling system that will give the space air conditioning in the summer months, which it has been without. That, along with the ceiling and carpet removal, will be a part of the second phase of the renovations, which needs to go out to bid to determine what construction agency will get the job. Ms. Weld said if the job goes to Continental, they would likely be able to overlap the two phases, quickening the pace of the work.
“The air conditioning units are going to be a series of wall-mounted units, so we do have to deal with the existing infrastructure,” Ms. Weld said. “As we have been doing this construction, we’ve learned more than when we first started designing it. We were taking some stabs at things and now we have a better handle on what is actually here and so we’ll be incorporating that as well. The whole place will be air-conditioned, which will make it a really nice refuge for the larger community once the space is open. So next summer, when we get these 80-90 degree days, people can come and hang out in the reading room, hang out in the mezzanine and stay cool in here.”
In the third phase of renovations, which will be a more behind-the-scenes project with no impact on the library’s re-opening, the “stage area” where the offices, staff room, and restroom were created in 1976, will all be redesigned.
“The bathroom isn’t accessible, the children’s room and the room that they are currently using for a meeting room is a little bit small,” Ms. Weld said. “When the mezzanine goes in, it actually is going to match the level of the balcony you can see up here, so we would like there to be a classroom space off of that, so we are going to improve that classroom space a little.”
Currently, there is a third-floor balcony about three-feet wide that is storing furniture. Ms. Weld said the wall is going to be brought out to utilize that space on the office side with the addition of more windows.
The ceiling over the circulation desk where patrons enter the library will also be replaced with the current light fixtures remaining in place.
“And then the detail that we did on the railing of the mezzanine and the stair that goes up to the mezzanine, all of those details were taken from the original drawings that I found,” Ms. Weld said. “I have blueprints from 1937 that the building department has on file that show full-scale drawings of the bases of some of these columns, the lovely turn detail for the tops of all of the newel posts. So things like that, some of it we are doing very similar, and some of it we are duplicating some of those details.”
The original building housing the library was built in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration building, as part of the New Deal to keep people employed coming out of the Great Depression.
The ceiling above the entranceway to the library used to be a balcony that has since been closed in.
“What is nice about it is that it was done in 1937 so the details are fairly classical but they aren’t so fancy that restoring them is a whole production of sourcing materials and going back to old-world processes,” she said. “It is pretty straight forward, relatively speaking but still a nicer detail than some of the sort of 70s finishes that went in now.”
Up until the time of the 1976 renovations, Ms. Weld said the auditorium was fairly famous for its community-wide Halloween dances and other things.
“If anyone has pictures to send us, please do, because I can’t find pictures,” she said. “It actually used to open to the building next door, so when it had theater productions here, the place that is currently used for Village Planning Board and administrative meetings was actually a reception hall for the theater.”
Ms. Weld exuded a certain sense of pride and excitement in the work she is doing in bringing this classical look back to the library, pride and excitement that is shared with the entire staff at the library and we hope is shared with our patrons.
But the good work takes time and she said a finish date is not solid but is estimated to be in mid-autumn.
“I certainly can’t make any promises though. At some point, when we revise the contract, the promised finish date for Phase One will be known, but, like I said, there is still the question with how Phase Two is going to work, but certainly our goal is getting it all done at one time, and overlap with the COVID setback, so that’s a long time for the library to be closed, but when it is open again it is going to be spectacular,” Ms. Weld said. “It is going to have more room for people. It is going to have more amenities for people, so we are hoping that people will be patient with us and come back when we’re open.”