Cleveland’s libraries ready for next chapter as $100 million upgrade unfolds

Rendering by Moody-Nolan of the new Hough Branch Library.

Rendering by Moody-Nolan of the new Hough Branch Library.

Dwayne Price will miss the old Hough Branch library, but he’s looking forward to the new one, coming soon in a roughly $100 million project to upgrade every Cleveland Public Library branch.

Price has visited Hough about four times a week for the past 17 years. “I don’t like to see it go,” he said, “but sometimes you have to move on.” He pointed to a play mat, for instance, and said that young patrons could use more room. “Kids need a place to release themselves.”

Across town, Paul “Showtime” Hall bicycles to the Walz Branch every day that it’s open. He praises the staff and the internet access but pans the building, which officials hope to replace next year. “The library is falling apart,” he said. “It’s just an eyesore in the community.”

From this June through 2029, all 27 Cleveland branch libraries are supposed to be replaced or improved. Then officials hope to renovate Main Library and the attached Stokes Wing.

Voters backed the branch work in 2017 with a tax increase of 2 mills, costing $35 per year for a $50,000 home. The library will need to raise other funds for Main and Stokes.

No two branches alike

The plans vary greatly from branch to branch. “Cleveland Public Library is building libraries that reflect the beauty and uniqueness of each neighborhood,” said John Lang, the system’s new chief operations officer, hired mainly to oversee construction.

In June, crews are supposed to start replacing the Woodland Branch and renovating the historic Jefferson and West Park branches. In late June or in July, they’re due to start the new Hough.

Rendering by Bostwick Design Partnership of new Woodland Branch Library.

Rendering by Bostwick Design Partnership of new Woodland Branch Library.

By Sept. 1, work should start on a new Martin L. King Jr. Branch. It will occupy two stories beneath nine floors of a private apartment building called Library Lofts.

In a somewhat comparable project, officials hope next year to start a new Walz Branch and build an adjoining Karam Senior Living.

By 2024, according to current plans, crews will build new Memorial-Nottingham, Rockport and Mount Pleasant branches, expand Sterling and Lorain, and renovate Brooklyn and Eastman. Then work will follow at the other branches.

Patrons keep coming

Back when the internet dawned, doubts arose about the future of libraries, known for books, periodicals, videos, and other tangible sources of facts and fun. Instead, libraries have grown more popular than ever.

Before the pandemic, Cleveland’s buildings were averaging 7,901 visitors per day, who came for materials, computers, guidance, classes, meetings, safe spaces, play spaces, job interviews, food if eligible, advice from Legal Aid, and much more.

Jean McFarren, the library’s innovation director. said of the neighborhood branches, “They’re the community’s living rooms.” She said the new layouts will be flexible to accommodate future uses as unimaginable today as the internet used to be.

Branches, hubs and anchors

The buildings will fall into three categories. Most will still be considered neighborhood branches. They’ll typically have 5,000 to 10,000 square feet apiece, with spaces for children, teens, and meetings. They’ll offer computers and mostly popular materials. They’ll also have round-the-clock pickup lockers.

Ten of the upgraded buildings will be considered community hubs: West Park, Walz, Rockport, South Brooklyn, South, Woodland, Fleet, Rice, Harvard-Lee, and Collinwood. Each of the nine will have 12,000 to 15,000 square feet, extra materials, at least two study rooms, , gaming, a space for makers and programmers, and longer hours to be determined. Each will be on a transit line.

Two branches, MLK and Carnegie-West, will be considered regional anchors. Each will have 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, with yet more materials, space for community events, and other extras.

City Hall has started approving designs for the early projects, and library leaders are optimistic about getting the rest on time. Meanwhile, they’re consulting patrons, community development corporations, and the Regional Transit Authority about later projects.

“We’re really focusing on transportation equity,” said Lang. “We want anybody coming to our libraries to feel welcome and have easy access, whether you’re walking, driving, riding a bicycle or taking RTA.”

The first four branches

Rendering by vocon of replacement wing of West Park Branch Library.

Rendering by vocon of replacement wing of West Park Branch Library.

The first four branches to be upgraded will have outdoor spaces. Woodland will get an outdoor classroom and performance space.

The new Woodland branch will be built on land next to the old one, which stands at 5806 Woodland Ave. The new will have about 10,000 square feet.

On nearby Kinsman Avenue, the RTA will consolidate bus stops, putting one right behind the branch. Lighting and landscaping will guide patrons from the stop to the door.

The old branch will become a citywide materials distribution center. It will replace the distribution center now at the Memorial-Nottingham Branch.

The Woodland work should cost $12.1 million.

Officials plan a $5 million renovation for West Park’s 1928 branch at West 157th Street and Lorain Avenue. The building was designed in Tudor style by the leading Walker and Weeks firm, known for Main Library, Severance Hall, Public Auditorium, the Federal Reserve Bank, and other landmarks.

Crews will give the two-story West Park an elevator. They’ll remove a drop ceiling in the reading room, exposing a vaulted ceiling. They’ll replace the roof’s slates and keep the windows’ leaded glass. They’ll reopen the original West 157th entrance. They’ll replace a 1978 addition. The branch will end up with 11,800 square feet.

Crews will also renovate Jefferson at 850 Jefferson Ave. They’ll add a small vestibule, bringing the total space to 6,900 square feet. They’ll reinstall historic art on the walls. The work should cost $2.2 million.

Hough will move from 1566 Crawford Ave. to the southwest corner of East 66th Street and Lexington Avenue, on a bus line, across from Fatima Family Center and League Park. The building will be one story tall, with 8,300 square feet, a high-angled ceiling, and glass-topped walls.

Officials hope to transfer the old building to the Cleveland Land Bank. The project should cost $5.1 million.

Readers and residents

Crews are supposed to break ground in the late summer on a new Martin Luther King Jr. Branch on the north side of Euclid Avenue between East 105th Street and Stokes Boulevard. The design has not been finalized yet, but leaders expect nearly 29,000 square feet.

Rendering by Wanix Architects of renovated Jefferson Branch Library.

Rendering by Wanix Architects of renovated Jefferson Branch Library.

The branch will stand beneath the forthcoming Library Lofts, with 207 studios and one-bedroom apartments. The building will be part of a bigger development called Circle Square by Midwest Development Partners.

Midwest will contribute $5.2 million toward the branch’s cost of $14.1 million. The current branch at 1962 Stokes Blvd. will be razed for another part of Circle Square.

Officials hope next year to replace the Walz Branch, 7910 Detroit Ave. The new branch should have about 12,000 square feet. It will adjoin the new Karam Senior Living, where the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization is planning 51 affordable units for seniors with low incomes.

The Detroit Chateau apartments will be razed to make way. The library expects to spend about $6.8 million on the project and Detroit Shoreway $11.5 million.

A master plan for the branch upgrades was written in 2019 by Bialosky Cleveland. Different architects and contractors have submitted winning bids for different branches so far.

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter who spent 34 years with The Plain Dealer. He has also published freelance articles, fiction, and “John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil” (Oxford University Press).

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