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Renovated Richland Library focuses on people

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The goal was clear from the start: Make people the priority.

As the two-year, $10 million renovation of Richland Library’s main branch in downtown Columbia nears completion, those most closely involved in the changes to the four-floor, 242,000-square-foot building that has anchored the corner of Assembly and Hampton streets since 1993 say that aim has been achieved.

“We are really happy with not just how beautiful the architecture is and how the interior has gone beyond what we imagined but how people are using the space, how people are owning it and feeling very comfortable in it,” Richland Library executive director Melanie Huggins said during a tour of the building on Wednesday. “The library is such a place of community convening, and we wanted to create space that represented that.”

On the ground floor, colorfully patterned walls lead the way from an entrance connected to a parking lot to the new teen area. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)The renovation was financed through a $59 million bond referendum approved by Richland County voters in 2013 to spruce up the county’s 11 libraries. That made it important to be “good stewards,” said Heather Mitchell, president of Columbia design firm The Boudreaux Group, which handled the library’s interior.

“We made sure we were keeping true to the budget and making the right choices and prioritizing what was most important to the public and the library,” Mitchell said. “There were a lot of infrastructure upgrades behind the scenes that the public doesn’t realize – heating and air conditioning systems and all those types of things.”

Contract Construction of Irmo, Columbia-based R.B. Todd & Associates consulting engineers and Johnson and King Engineers structural consultants, and McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, which has offices throughout the Southeast, were among other partners in the intricate project.

Among the changes made during renovations, stacks of books were moved back to give people more access to the view from the library's windows. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)The traditional main entrance to the library now opens into a gallery space that is currently showcasing a quilting exhibition. A new main-level entry plaza will soon welcome visitors into the lobby, complete with a café, and a lower-level entry will connect a parking lot to the children’s and teen spaces on the garden floor.

Detailed design touches are evident on all floors. A bold, graphic print on new carpeting on the second and third levels is taken from a painting by Greenville artist Enid Williams. Its vivid colors pick up the bright shades of the felt-covered furniture and the re-positioned stacks of books, lined up in orderly rooms with inviting spaces between them several feet back from the large glass windows that are the library’s signature design element.

The brightly patterned carpet is taken from a Greenville artist's painting. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)Before, “the books had the best view of the city,” Huggins said.

The third level features a career support center and several of the new meeting rooms that raised the total in the library from eight to 38, Huggins said. The second level, home to the bulk of the building’s fiction collection, also includes a “maker space” for tactile arts such as sewing, two art studios, an auditorium and a media and video production studio. The library’s local history collection has also been re-located to a prominent space there.

The first floor houses the library’s extensive DVD and music collection, which includes streaming services.

Every floor is flooded with light and pops with color.

The Boudreaux Group wanted “to take what was already good about this building – the beautiful glass and the natural light – and enhance that,” Mitchell said.  “We really made sure the books and the function were still accessible, but the people and the activity were first.”

The library's iconic Where the Wild Things Are characters now parade on the garden level. (Photo/Melinda Waldrop)That may be most evident on the garden level, where the still-under-construction teen center has its own maker space as well as a gaming room and a raised deck that overlooks the children’s area. Home to the beloved characters from Where the Wild Things Are, the children’s space also features a storytelling room and a puppet stage.

Huggins said the garden level will open in January.

“It was definitely a challenge to keep this building open to the public while in construction. It was really important to us that people who depended on the services of this library were not just shut out for two whole years while we renovated,” she said. “People have been patient while we hammered things above their heads and have been loud while they’re trying to study, but it’s almost over.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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