Long live brutalism.
That seems to be the conclusion of Hennepin County library staff, which is recommending that the Southeast library designed in that unfortunately named architectural style be rehabbed instead of replaced. A spring 2019 opening is projected.
The recommendation by Library Director Lois Langer Thompson would put Hennepin County on a path toward modernizing the architecturally distinguished building at 1222 4th St. SE. It was designed as a credit union by noted local architect Ralph Rapson and opened in 1963. It opened as a library in 1967.
County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin spoke approvingly of the recommendation, which hasn't come to the County Board for approval.
"We have a chance to get more space, save a historic building and get this building in shape for the 21st century," he told a recent community meeting attended by about 30 area residents.
That won't necessarily be cheaper than building a new library, architect Paul Gates told the group after cataloging the building's needs. The project has a placeholder budget of $12 million. However renovating on-site both avoids the inevitable battle if a demo of the present building were proposed, and the hassle of trying to find a suitable new site in the densely developed university area.
One advantage to the current site is that it's fairly central within the area's service area, and easily accessible by car, bike and transit.
A team of experts who assessed the building found the general structure to be highly durable. The biggest need is stormwater handling, a function unintentionally handled by the basement, Gates noted dryly. He's proposing twin underground stormwater tanks.
"By and large, the building is overdue for a renovation," Gates said. He's proposing replacement of its 50-year-old mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The 22 skylights atop of the flat roof also need replacing, he said. "Following the renovation, they should actually admit some light," he said.
The building shell is replete with many indentations and projections for various rooms along the perimeter. He's proposing some additional interior openings from those rooms to make the building more functional. Downstairs, he's recommending that the warren of smaller rooms be opened into larger spaces. Those changes make the building more adaptable for changing library uses, Gates said.
Although library staff described the building as large for its function as a community library, only about 8,300 square feet are usable within the building of almost 13,000 gross square feet on the nearly 22,000 square foot site
The county's proposed course seemed popular with residents. "I'm so excited. I can't contain myself that we're reusing the Ralph Rapson building," said one of them, architect Eric Amel. The project now will move this fall to the selection of a designer to develop a schematic design for board approval in mid-2017.
The County Board has allocated $12 million to the project. Most of that will be county money, supplementing a smaller sum left over from the 2000 Minneapolis library bond referendum. The Southeast library is the last unfinished item from the list of Minneapolis library projects used to sell the referendum to voters, years before the county absorbed city libraries in 2007.
One item that McLaughlin said he frequently gets questioned on is when the library's 24 open hours a week on three days will be improved. Library officials said they'll be proposing to the County Board an increase to six days and 48 hours weekly.
(Photo above by Bridget Bennett)