Major Changes Announced for Three St. Paul Libraries

The St. Paul Public Library system has unveiled plans for a major renovation of the Hayden Heights Library on White Bear Avenue, a new addition adjoining the Riverview Library on the West Side, and a complete rebuild of the Hamline-Midway Library after more than a year of outreach and sometimes heated debate.

In an interview, Library Director Catherine Penkert said the three facilities are “much loved, highly utilized, and well worn,” and “have not received major investment in decades, in more than 30 years, or in the case of Hayden Heights, in more than 40 years.”

She stated that all 13 library sites will see new investments in technology and children’s play facilities.

The plan for Hayden Heights is to ring the external walls with plants and new windows, including an all-glass southwest corner that will show visitors on White Bear Avenue the inner workings of the single-story 1970s construction. Residents wanted the library to become more of a “resilience center,” with programming like a visiting nurse, workforce resources, and other community activities, according to Penkert.

A new side extension at Riverview, a Carnegie library erected in 1916, will include a community room and a single entry for able-bodied and impaired patrons, allowing the old front stairwell to be turned into an outdoor reading terrace. The aesthetics of the side extension are yet to be defined, according to Penkert, and will necessitate further community discussion. The current green space on the front and side lawns would be transformed into a park-like setting, allowing for outdoor story times and other activities.

The most significant and contentious alterations will occur at the Hamline-Midway site on Minnehaha Avenue, where longtime supporters of the building’s 1930s-era red-brick façade and tall, arched doorway have demanded a historically sensitive refurbishment.

Instead, the library will be totally dismantled and rebuilt, with bricks from the facade being reused in a new facility on the same location that will be 30 percent larger.

The project is expected to go out to construction bid this year, with a 2023 start date.

In a vertical design, the existing Hamline-Midway structure effectively stacks a one-level library above basement restrooms and meeting space. Disability access to the current facility is confined to a basement side entrance that links to a tiny corridor, according to Keon Blasingame, a principal of LSE Architects of Minneapolis.

Blasingame, whose 18-year-old son needs a wheelchair, said, “We’ve stepped the building back.” “Everything is accessible since all of the main functions are on one level.”

With expanded staff spaces, flexible-use classrooms, and conference space, as well as increased access to current technology, the new, more efficient horizontal arrangement is intended to enhance sight lines and increase readily-accessible building space by 50%.

Penkert said the objective was to design “a new structure that includes in some pretty clear and physical ways linkages to the existing building” and “very much honors the legacy of the library in that community,” focusing on “accessibility and sustainability.” “However, in 1930, we could not have envisaged what we use libraries for today.”

Fans of the Hamline-Midway site grouped under the banner “Renovate 1558” mounted a demonstration to save it from demolition as late as May 14. Historic St. Paul, a preservation organization, has backed their initiatives.

In a recent statement provided by executive director Carol Carey, the group stated, “Historic preservation is the very definition of sustainability – a wise, effective approach to reuse a community’s resources while maintaining its identity at the same time.”

Mitra Jalali, a member of the St. Paul City Council, issued a statement on Thursday expressing her support for a new “permanent library that is here to stay,” citing “an intensive and community-informed process that has covered the majority of my tenure on the council.”

“A thorough library renovation doesn’t only commemorate the past,” Jalali stated. It alters the disinvestment circumstances that led to the disparities.”

Each of the designs is still being fine-tuned in terms of aspects like basic aesthetics and inside arrangement, but library officials stated this week that the three broad concepts drawn out by Minneapolis-based LSE Architects were complete.

A devastating epidemic has exposed discrepancies in technology access among community members of various financial levels and ethnic groups, while boosting the importance of remote labor, remote schooling, and Internet-based education.

Officials stated that providing computers, classes, and collaborative work places is no longer a possibility.

Friends of St. Paul Public Library spokesman Kim Horton sent a statement applauding the library system for “heading a fantastic community engagement process across our city and involving hundreds of individuals in visualizing libraries that will serve us all for decades to come.” We wholeheartedly embrace the proposed strategy for systemwide improvements suggested by the St. Paul Public Library, which will make all of our libraries more inviting, accessible, and ready to handle whatever challenge comes next.”

Virtual office hours will be held at each library in the St. Paul Public Library system so that community members may acquire additional information. The conversations will take place on June 1 from 4 to 5 p.m. for the Hayden Heights location, and from 4 to 5 p.m. for the other locations. The Hamline-Midway site will be open on June 2, and the Riverview location will be open from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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