Ideas for new library presented

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Warren Schwartz, center, principal architect with Schwartz/Silver of Boston, answers East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control member Stanford Bardwell Jr.'s questions as he holds an acrylic model of what the new River Center Branch Library is to look like during an open house meeting at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum Wednesday in downtown Baton Rouge. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Warren Schwartz, center, principal architect with Schwartz/Silver of Boston, answers East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board of Control member Stanford Bardwell Jr.'s questions as he holds an acrylic model of what the new River Center Branch Library is to look like during an open house meeting at the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum Wednesday in downtown Baton Rouge.

The new River Center Branch Library will not be “an old library full of old books” but rather a community resource that will draw people to downtown, architect Rex Cabaniss said Wednesday.

The architectural team designing the $19-million project on North Boulevard wanted to build “an inspiring space” that would be “kind of the opposite of what’s there now,” Cabaniss said.

Cabaniss and library officials presented preliminary ideas for the design of the new building at an “open house” style meeting Wednesday evening at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum. The public was invited to view displays of the design plans and offer feedback.

Architects and top library brass were present to answer questions and record input from the approximately 70-80 people who attended the three-hour meeting.

The early plans call for a four-story, 47,000-square-foot structure that would be taller than the one currently on the site. Each floor would have some outdoor space, including a first floor coffee shop cafe, Cabaniss said.

The second floor would be dedicated for children and include a porch, part of which could be screened off for smaller events. Both the second floor porch and part of the sidewalk would be shaded by the third floor of the building, which juts out toward North Boulevard, the plans show.

A rooftop terrace above the third floor would provide views west toward the Mississippi River, north toward Town Square and east along North Boulevard, the plans show.

Much of the building’s north wall will be glass to take advantage of natural light and make the building as inviting as possible, Cabaniss said.

The library’s design is to maximize the space for advancing technology and changing community needs, he said.

“We will wire it for extra capacity,” Cabaniss said, adding he hopes the building could last a half-century or longer. “We know technology will come on board that we haven’t thought of yet.”

Fewer books are planned for the new building, which will be nearly one-and-a-half times as large as the current building. The current library building holds approximately 100,000 books, said Spencer Watts, the library system’s director. The new library is expected to house approximately 70,000 to 80,000, Cabaniss said.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said he thought the building would fit well with Town Square and Galvez Plaza, two adjacent spaces.

“I want the buildings to be active and energized,” he said. “The concepts they have proposed are wonderful.”

Rhorer praised the idea of a rooftop terrace. “The views are literally spectacular,” he said.

Those who attended Wednesday’s meeting were encouraged to write ideas down on sticky notes and post them on boards around the room.

Several notes posted encouraged architects to make the new building’s entrance — proposed for the northwest corner — more dramatic than it appears in drawings. Others suggested the building work to achieve silver or gold certification for energy efficiency and environmental design, something Cabaniss said he wasn’t sure the budget for the building would allow.

LEED certification is granted by the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Michèle Deshotels, who lives in Beauregard Town, said she was excited about the project.

The current building is “inadequate,” she said. “We raised our children in Beauregard Town and they went through the offerings rather quickly,” she said.

Deshotels said she “very much liked the concepts” presented Wednesday night.

Rick and Kathlene Carr, who said they frequent libraries all over the parish, also were happy with what they saw.

“We are coming downtown more and more,” Kathlene Carr said. “It will be nice to have a library that’s better than what’s there now.”

Longtime library watcher and frequent critic John Berry, who attended the open house, criticized the format of the meeting.

“This is like third grade show and tell,” he said. “There is no interaction between us and the people who are spending our money on their ideas.”

Berry said he thought the current building could be renovated for a quarter of the $19 million price tag.