The James Branch Cabell Library opened the first and second floor of its $50.8 million dollar expansion on Nov. 2. The new addition is the first renovation to the library since its debut in 1970.
The $50.8 million project adds 93,000 square feet of new space in addition to 63,000 square feet of renovations to the existing library. 90 percent of this space was designed specifically for student use.
The opening of the bottom two floors is only the first part of the library’s expansion. The next and final phase of its opening will include the third and fourth floors, which are expected to be completed in late December and will be furnished and open for the spring semester.
According to John Ulmschneider, the university librarian, VCU worked with the construction contractor, W.M Jordan Company, to have construction on the library completed by final exams.
“We worked with the contractor for months and months and months in advance to say we really wanted to bring the space online,” Ulmschneider said.
Before its expansion, Cabell was the smallest library at any Virginia university. Cabell offered only 5.6 square feet per student – a small amount in comparison to the College of William and Mary’s Earl Gregg Swem Library, which has 44 square feet per student.
According to the William and Mary website, the university has a student body of 6,299 undergraduates and 2,138 graduate students. This is a small number is comparison to VCU’s 23,962 undergraduates and 5,483 graduate students.
“It’s overcrowded. I see students on the floor sitting in stacks, so they have no place to go for their study work,” Ulmschneider said. “We hope students can find a place where they can be able to sit, do their work and find a computer, and that’s incredibly important for the work our students are doing.”
W.M Jordan Company is based in Norfolk and has an office in Richmond. The construction company has worked with many Virginia universities, including William & Mary, Old Dominion University, the University of Mary Washington, Christopher Newport University, Virginia Union University, the University of Virginia, James Madison University and Virginia Tech.
Ulmschneider said that the contractor faced several obstacles in meeting the deadline.
“There were many challenges, but they kept us on schedule and I’m really delighted by it,” Ulmschneider said. “They have been great to work with.”
Construction began in spring 2014. According to Ulmschneider, some of the spaces that are open are still incomplete due to the lack of furnishing.
More technology will be added to the first and second floors before construction is finished, Ulmschneider said.
“We have new group study rooms, wonderful glass-enclosed group study rooms. But they don’t have monitors in yet,” Ulmschneider said.
Although W.M. Jordan Company stayed within their construction budget, students will still be expected to continue to pay a $50 annual library fee.
According to Sue Robinson, director of communication and public relations for VCU libraries, the fee is essential for the operation of the library.
“Student leadership supported VCU Libraries in its request to have a small student fee that directly benefits the library,” Robinson said.
Ulmschneider said the services allow the library to operate 24/7.
“The library fee has helped us in two parts: one is able to operate the building and have it open around the clock,” Ulmschneider said. “The other is to equip the building with the kind of high end computing equipment in the basement that would otherwise not be available.”
The Starbucks on the first floor is also being expanded and is expected to be completed in early spring.
Article by: Andrew Crider, Contributing Writer
Staff Photographer, Julie Tripp
Julie is a junior majoring in photography with a minor in media studies. She is pursuing a career in photojournalism and is taking the spring semester to study photography in Bristol, England. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Portfolio