Students consider $52 million library expansion

Zoë Dehmer
Staff Writer

A proposed $52 million expansion of the Cabell Library was unveiled to students during a forum discussion on Wednesday night.

The proposed new design of the library involves an addition of 75,000 square feet to the current 180,000 square foot building. The addition will take the place of the current so-called “pit” where a loading dock now exists, off of Linden Street, across from the Hibbs Building.

The expansion will allow for 40 additional study rooms, and a more than doubled seating capacity. The Starbucks will also double in size, becoming the second largest university campus Starbucks in the country with 50 seats.

Other new features will include a two-story media and event space, a high-tech digital media studio in the basement with the possibility for housing things like 3D printers and podcast recording stations. The forum, hosted by the Cabell Library Undergraduate Advisory Committee and the SGA, has been holding periodic meetings so that students can ask questions and give feedback about Cabell Library services. The sessions are intended to promote the value of Cabell Library in the academic and social life of undergraduates at VCU.

Dennis Clark, associate director for Library Services, presented the upcoming plans for renovations during the forum.

“We need to provide a library that supports academic study for the undergraduate population,” Clark said. “Undergraduates are 90 percent of the people who walk into this building … so that’s our primary clientele. We also need to create an expansion library that’s relatively iconic … and that reflects the artistic endeavor of the VCU community.”

Clark said that the additional space will be dedicated exclusively to various kinds of study and work spaces. “The focus of this, and our needs, is really about study space and not space for books,” Clark said. “As publishing shifts, it’s more of an electronic model. As we buy more of our things online and electronically, we’re shifting more of our collections offsite.”

In fact, VCU has already begun moving some of its older or rarely used collections to an offsite location at the 500 Academic Centre on West Grace Street. Currently, there are approximately 250,000 volumes being housed at the center. As a part of the process of expanding Cabell Library, Clark said that they plan on expanding the space inside the center to include about 400,000 more books, which would be easily retrievable for the patrons and students who need them. “It will give us space for people in the library—that’s our number one concern,” he said.

Students were able to ask questions or introduce suggestions on the proposed expansions and other library services during the forum. Past CLUAC forum meetings have led the library administration to implement changes like making the library open 24 hours a day, five days a week, as well as designating the fourth floor as a completely silent study space.

Senior Paul Speshock attended the forum and thought that, although there won’t be as many books housed in the library, the library’s online search system would compensate for any loss of accessibility to materials.

“I still check out books, but that’s probably just because I’m old fashioned,” he said. “VCU Libraries has a really good search program, you can pretty much find anything with it.”

Althought she won’t be using the new building during her time at VCU as a student, senior Stephenie Trinity, an SGA delegate, was still excited to hear about VCU’s plans for improving the library space. “I feel like this new library will give the students what they need to accomplish their goals,” she said. “During my time at VCU, one of the biggest issues for me has been finding a computer downstairs … you have to literally stalk people and wait for them to be done looking at their computers and then take their seat. The new library is going to have a lot more computers available for student so I think it will solve that problem.”

The process of reaching that finished point will take between 18 and 22  months of construction. Students’ top concerns during the forum were possible disruptions during the transition period.

“There’s no way you can build a $52 million building right next to us, renovate the space between us, and switch over to all new systems, and not have disruptions,” Clark said. VCU has worked with the construction manager on the project, who assured them they will do what they can to eliminate the most noise, especially during peak hours, by trying to do the loudest construction in the middle of the night and on weekend hours when the library closes.

“Plus,” he added, “We will issue earplugs for the noisy times.”

VCU intends to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification for all new buildings, including the new library project.

Funding for the project will come entirely from state funding, not tuition revenues.

Construction is expected to start in March 2014 and be finished in time for students to use during fall semester 2015.

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