March 15, 2007

Olin Redesigns Interior

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In response to a recent survey of faculty and students, a plan is currently underway to renovate the third through eighth floors of Olin Library, which have remained largely unchanged since the library’s opening in 1961. According to the Christine Philipp, a library administrator, renovations are necessary to modernize the library “to meet today’s curriculum needs and the changing work habits and study habits of teachers and students by increasing the number of computers available, adding more electrical outlets for laptop computers, and adding data and power lines to faculty and student study rooms.”

Olin Library staff created a survey in December 2006 that got over a thousand student and faculty respondents. Patricia Schafer, director of Cornell University Service Strategies, led a group that studied at the programmatic needs for Olin, and also helped develop the survey.

According to Anne Kenney, interim University librarian, “The survey has shown us that not only are HVAC [heating and cooling system] and life safety issues a problem, but there has been deferred maintenance on program supports for the way scholars do research today, which we really need to address.” She also said that this survey “speaks of the value that this library plays in the academic lives of these people.”

“In terms of library service, Cornell’s faculty and students have access to one of the finest assemblages of library staff and collections in the United States, indeed world. However, in terms of a library building per se, when Cornell faculty and students walk through front doors of our main humanities and social sciences library, they enter a facility that was designed programmatically for research and learning in a different age,” Schafer said.

Schafer and her colleague, John Hoffman, director of Library Facilities Planning, are “spearheading the planning for the Olin Renovation initiative,” according to Schafer. After the University administration “authorized a design project for the revised schematic design of Olin Library, floors three through eight, on April, 2006, for which the Boston architects, Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott (SBRA), were hired,” the library submitted a proposal to the Capital Facilities and Planning Committee for the first round of approval, according to Hoffman.

“The compelling arguments for renovation of Olin Library, the busiest library on campus with one million visitors annually, are its deficiencies in life-safety systems, its antiquated HVAC system, and the Library’s imperative to respond to the requirements of 21st century scholars and students,” Hoffman said.

As a part of this proposal, in addition to modernizing the available technology, the library wants to update the HVAC in the library.

“For years, faculty and students have complained about studies being too cold and too hot. A detailed analysis of the building facade conducted in 2003 revealed that Olin is a leaky, energy-inefficient building, with an HVAC system on its last legs,” said Hoffman.

This component of the project will address the environmental concern about the decreasing lifespan of the books as a result of temperature and humidity fluctuation. The building also lacks a sprinkler system, which is a fire hazard for both the people and the collections residing there. Also as a part of this proposal, the library plans to transform the seventh floor into a dynamic space that can be used as a reading space, a lecture area, or a meeting room.

Kenney said, “One of our goals would be, if the University funds the life safety and HVAC issues, to minimize the impact on our students by doing all of the things that need to be done at once, rather than stretching it out over years.”

If the plans are approved by Capital Facilities and Planning Committee and by the Board of Trustees Building and Properties Committee, work will begin in early 2009. This will require shutting down one to two floors at a time in order to work for four to six months on each floor, beginning with the top floors.

Although construction is currently going on in Olin on the first floor to remove asbestos, to make some improvements in staff office space and to add a new instruction facility, the library hopes that these renovations will be operational by fall 2007, well before the new project is initiated. Schafer said, in reference to the current construction on the first floor, that it is the “latest of many ‘band-aid’ smaller projects we have done over the years in lieu of a complete renovation of Olin and in response to various programmatic and staff needs.”

“Just as laboratories are critical to graduate students in the life science, libraries play that same role for graduate students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and we wouldn’t expect chemistry grad students to use 50 year old labs,” Kenney said.