Innovative Library 21c leads PPLD toward new horizons

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PPLD Executive Director Paula Miller (center) checks out 21c’s progress with staffers Dee Vazquez Sabol and Travis Duncan.

PPLD Executive Director Paula Miller (center) checks out 21c’s progress with staffers Dee Vazquez Sabol and Travis Duncan.

When the Pikes Peak Library District opens its new branch near the city’s northern edge in June, Colorado Springs will welcome a facility that administrators say is unlike any other in the region.

“It’s not just a building,” said PPLD Executive Director Paula Miller. “We’re changing the way we deliver public library service in several ways. We are going to [test] all of those things in this facility and then move them out to East and Penrose libraries.”

The Library District’s board of trustees approved late last month a name for the $10.7 million project, which will be called Library 21c — a moniker representative of its 21st-century model.

“Leaders at PPLD find the ‘c’ component edgy and flexible,” the district said an announcement. “ ‘C’ for century; ‘c’ for change; ‘c’ for connections; ‘c’ for create; ‘c’ for community.”

The “21st Century Library,” as it has been designated by the district, is being constructed in the 120,000-square-foot former home of tech giant MCI Communications Corp. at 1175 Chapel Hills Drive, around the corner from Chapel Hills Mall. When complete, 21c will be the largest branch in the district and will offer public spaces and a wide array of amenities.

“There has been no greater period for change than right now in probably the past 100 years,” Miller said of the book business.

The district’s model for the new library is five years in the making and has become the cornerstone of its plan to revamp the entire system, said Dee Vazquez Sabol, PPLD’s community engagement and outreach officer.

A major aspect of that model is interactivity. Aside from physical literature, the library will include such modern conveniences as a creative computer commons area, a business center, a 400-seat community meeting room and theater, a career assistance center and a variety of maker space.

“PPLD’s new library … is the prototype and ‘launch pad’ for the 21st century library service,” the district announced. “Its state-of-the-art spaces and resources will make it the first of its kind in the country.”

The branch will also offer a variety of classes from kindergarten to university level, from courses focused on the arts and social issues to lectures in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

“Libraries have always been about learning,” Miller said. “We’re really expanding that here and doing more with that.”

Another section of the library will be dedicated to audio and visual recording and editing space, including bays and Macintosh computers equipped with Adobe Master Suite and other software essential to the digitally creative process.

Miller said the building will also be a place for public art and installation and is now accepting applications from area artists who wish to display their works.

Because the upper floor of the building was not designed to be load-bearing, all of the physical media will be housed on the lower floor. On the building’s back porch — with panoramic views of the Front Range — will be a large movie screen and projector with which to screen films during the summer.

Design to reality

The project’s design phase began last January, followed by drawing, quotes and planning before construction started in September, according to the district’s website. The website states that the transfer of staff and goods will begin next month to prepare for a June grand opening.

PPLD initially looked to the Powers Boulevard corridor for a suitable building, but Sabol said the Academy location is more practical in terms of cost and locale.

Working with a tight budget created by surpluses in the district’s operating budget (some of which is created by a mill levy), library officials’ options were limited. They could build an new building, which would be much smaller with fewer features, or purchase an older building and spend more money on public offerings, so that’s what they went with.

The district purchased the building, which had been on the market for nearly a decade, for $3.75 million — a fraction of the original asking price, according to Miller and Sabol.

After around $7 million in costs related to renovation and equipment acquisition, the library will boast a highly interactive and tech-friendly environment complete with an abundance of conference space and areas for maker space — one clean, one messy — as well as a static 3D scanner/printer, gaming rooms for the kids, a cafe, teen study space, a white-box theatre and, of course, books galore.

The coming impact

The opening of the new library will create 30 to 35 new jobs and consolidate much of the system’s administrative services, as well as the staff at the soon-to-be-closed Briargate branch.

Although the building will not be LEED-certified because of its structural qualities, Miller said the district has dedicated as much funding as practical to making it as energy-efficient as possible.

The library will facilitate new programs, leverage new partnerships and create more services for its patrons, as well as create public spaces at the other branches that are considerably smaller, according to Sabol.

“We will free up space for public use that has never been public before,” she said.

Other projects within the district include an 18,000-square-foot expansion of East Library and a 15,000-square-foot expansion of Penrose Library, both of which will serve to create more space for public use. Those other two renovations are expected to be completed next year, according to the website.

The combined budget for the “Tri-Building Project” is $13.9 million, most of which comes from the district’s savings and capital improvement funds. El Pomar Foundation issued a $750,000 grant for the project in addition to $132,250 in other gifts from community organizations.

“We see this as our opportunity to take the edge and make it our own,” Miller said in the announcement. “The community has [City for Champions]. There is such a push to think differently, act in new ways, and create change. Library 21c is our addition to that movement.”

And they aren’t stopping there.

“We also want to do something like this in the southeast part of the city,” Sabol said.