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Flexibility Is Defining Feature In Designs For $20 Million Bloomington Library Expansion

New library entrance
Bloomington Public Library
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The expansion, designed by Engberg Anderson Architects, would create a new main entrance at the northwest corner of the building, visible from the heart of nearby downtown Bloomington.

Bloomington Public Library patrons would see more parking, meeting space, new rooms for teens and sensory-friendly visitors, and a pharmacy-style curbside pickup window if a scaled-down $20 million expansion plan comes to fruition.<--break->

Library leaders recently made their pitch to the Bloomington City Council. If the council signs off, construction would begin in April 2022 and take about 18 months.

Director Jeanne Hamilton said on-site expansion would make the library more flexible and future-friendly -- a need hammered home by the pandemic.

“I strongly feel that people are going to be so hungry to gather again when we can, that we want to have a solid space where people are able to do that,” Hamilton said.

Parking area
Credit Bloomington Public Library
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The library would also pick up additional parking, with the creation of a small garage on the south side of the building. It would create about 50 new parking spaces.

The expansion, designed by Engberg Anderson Architects, would create a new main entrance at the northwest corner of the building, visible from the heart of nearby downtown Bloomington. It’s a big shift from the current design, where the main entrance is tucked away on the south side of the building.

“We’ve really worked with the architects to try to make the building feel a bit warmer,” Hamilton said. “Right now, it’s built in a brutalist architecture style, so that’s a lot of concrete. So we’re bringing in some warmer tones, with wrapping the building in some wood and some natural elements.”

The library currently has one meeting room with space for 100 people, which Hamilton said was always booked pre-pandemic. The new library would have meeting space for up to 300 people, in a dividable space with up to three rooms. The number of study rooms would grow from two to 12.

There also would be a new makerspace, a new space for teens, a room for sensory-friendly visitors, and for nursing mothers.

The library would pick up additional parking, too, with the creation of a small garage on the south side of the building; about 50 new parking spaces would be created.

Like many other public buildings, the library has been closed to visitors for long stretches due to the pandemic. It’s currently only open for curbside pickup and its Bookmobile stops.

The expansion project would add a pharmacy-style curbside pickup window, Hamilton said, and would add an automated sorter to speed up check in of returned items.

“A silver lining of COVID is that we found a way to make (curbside pickup) happen in our current configuration, and we’re hearing that people want it to stay,” Hamilton said. “But we can make that experience even better than it is now in our makeshift format.”

The library’s last renovation was in 2006. This new plan does “not have too many frills,” Hamilton said. A previous vision for a multiphased expansion carried a price range of between $28 million and $52 million. “We really heard the feedback in the past that the number we were coming in with was too high,” Hamilton said.

The library already has saved nearly $6 million to put toward the project. That would leave about $15 million for city taxpayers to cover, through bonding (debt).

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.