An Edmonton institution is leaping into the 21st century.
The Stanley A. Milner Library was originally built in 1967 and has been a fixture of Edmonton’s downtown core. The building was targeted by the City of Edmonton for renewal in 2014 with a total budget of $84.5 million to create a “showcase” structure.
“There had been ongoing discussions for years and we had done renovations of the main and second floor, but we had done nothing to the front, or addressed code issues,” said Edmonton Public Library (EPL) CEO Pilar Martinez.
While other downtown buildings near the library such as Edmonton City Hall, the Citadel Theater and the Alberta Art Gallery were all upgraded and modernized in the last two decades, “we needed to have a rightful place in Churchill Square,” she said.
“We kind of stuck out, and it didn’t fit the 21st century library experience,” Martinez added, citing a lack of natural light and a dated design.
One of the most striking facets of the revitalization is the building’s exterior.
“The dramatic exterior zinc cladding plays off our neighbours, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the beautiful City Hall, the Winspear and the Citadel and lends a futuristic look and feel to the former brutalist architecture,” Martinez described.
Given the location and prominence of the library in the city’s downtown core, construction in the area is challenging, especially with the high volume of vehicle and commuter traffic.
“To lessen the disruption, cranes were brought in overnight or on weekends when it was less busy. We had three cranes on the site at one point,” Martinez said.
While the building is being renovated, Martinez noted, work is also being done on Edmonton’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, and Churchill Station is located right across from the library.
“As the LRT is expanding and construction is not only occurring within our doors but right outside for the LRT, car, bike and pedestrian traffic has been affected,” she said.
Key to the library’s mission, Martinez noted, is removing barriers to both physical and social mobility.
“With the improved access to the LRT and underground pedway, our revitalized library will enhance bike and pedestrian access. People from across the city will also be able to easily visit the renovated facility, making it more accessible for people with all levels of mobility. It will be integrated with the LRT station, removing barriers for people to visit our public spaces all year-round and better facilitate the needs of all community members,” she said.
Accessibility to the library’s resources for all is a key part of the organization’s overall mission, she added, given the downtown facility alone receives more than a million visits a year from Edmontonians across the social and economic spectrum.
“With expanded spaces for learning, experimenting, studying, reading, working and meeting with friends, the revitalized downtown library will continue to serve the diverse and changing needs of the thousands of Edmontonians who visit EPL each and every day,” Martinez said.
The interior of the library, after public consultation and input from stakeholders, has been extended to address a diverse set of needs.
The children’s library will be expanded to three times its present size, with facilities for hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) activities. The Makerspace will be expanded for those interested in 3-D printing, audio and video production, robotics and fabrication.
Over 2,500 square feet of community meeting space will be added, as will 4,000 square feet of private study spaces and reading areas. A theatre with access to Churchill Square, along with a multi-storey interactive “simulation wall” and a main floor meeting space ventilated for Indigenous ceremonies are also part of the renovated building.
“There’s no space to hold ceremonies unless you’re affiliated with an organization, so we created a meeting room. We did consultation with Indigenous communities about the art in the room and designed the ventilation so if you want to conduct smudges or pipe ceremonies, you can do that,” Martinez said.
She added her favourite aspect of the upgrade is the new openness of the library compared to its former self.
“I’m so excited about the vertical openness of the space. It will transform the experience and library users will have sight lines so you can see what’s happening on the second and third floor,” she said. “The natural light is a great addition.”
The library is scheduled to reopen to the public in 2020.