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Deep Dive: Sherburne Library

When Teitsch-Kent-Fay Architects, P.C. were first invited to visit the library the Director’s first words were “we do not fit in this building”.

At first glance, it was hard to argue with this statement. Bookshelves had been installed in cupboards, fireplaces, wherever space would allow. Office spaces were makeshift at best and extremely small. There was no separation or distinction between the children’s area and the main library. The building, a Gothic Revival beauty, had no accessible entrance or toilet facilities. Additionally, the enormous antiquated furnace equipment took up most of the lower level. All in all, the situation was cramped and awkward.

We began the design process by conducting a building condition survey, and a program study to determine the specific space requirements needed to accomplish the Library’s goals. Both of these documents indicated that the space needs were not a great deal larger than the existing square footage, and that the existing space usage was inefficient. The building condition survey showed that the furnace equipment in the basement was taking up a great deal of space that modern equipment would not require. The program study revealed that the actual space required for the Library’s functions was not a great deal larger than the existing building, the issue was that the existing space usage was very inefficient, and the existing equipment was very large, and inefficient

With these two studies to assist, a preliminary design was prepared. This included making the main floor the primary library space, with the children’s library relocated to the lower level, which had previously been occupied by the outdated heating system, and a non-accessible toilet room. A small addition was designed to include an accessible entrance, while also retaining the traditional monumental entrance to the existing building, an elevator to connect all levels, a new efficiently sized mechanical room, and accessible toilet facilities. The corridor elements were designed to allow for gallery display for local artists.

As the design was developed, the addition was detailed to include elements, such as brick detailing and window layouts, to harmonize with, but not detract from the original Gothic Revival building, while also retaining the traditional, monumental entrance of the existing building. Historic features of the existing building such as the fireplace with flanking bookshelves on the main lever, the original circulation desk, and stairways with wooden paneling were restored. The original bookstacks were retained, but were modified, with up-lighting installed on top to allow the original stack area to be filled with light. As the existing building and the adjacent public park were on the Register of Historic Places our design team worked closely with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) to create a sensitive design that respected these important historic elements.

While the initial impression from the Library staff, as well as our team was that the building was too small to accommodate the current and future needs, the completed project stands as a prime example of the importance of careful, unbiased review, going through the BCS and Program Study process, leading to a design solution that at first seemed unlikely, but allowed the Library to stay in the beautiful building that they love, while at the same time renovating the existing space and creating new programmatic spaces needed to fulfill their mission.

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