The Sandy Springs Branch Library renovation plan drew applause from a crowd about 50 who attended a Feb. 7 community meeting. Construction could start sometime between April and July this year and would require a six- to eight-month closure. But first, Fulton County must approve a 15 percent budget increase to $3.346 million.

Built in 1973, the library at 395 Mount Vernon Highway N.E. was last renovated 30 years ago. Joe Alcock, the lead architect for the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System’s renovations, said at the meeting, held at the library, that the branch managers have found ways to “make do” with the outdated spaces over the years.

The main entrance of the Sandy Springs Branch Library at 395 Mount Vernon Highway N.E. (File/John Ruch)

“This is the time we’re going to take those make-do’s and turn them into should-be’s,” Alcock said.

The renovation responds to most requests made at a previous community meeting last June and is aimed at created flexible spaces that will be useful for 20 to 25 years. The plan does not include any additions to the library, but involves a total renovation of both the interior and exterior. The interior would be reconfigured to create long-desired spaces for a teen section, a friends group’s bookstore, meetings and a children’s art room. Many of those amenities drew comments of “good” and “thanks” from the audience.

The plan broadly rearranges the library’s two halves into a western “children’s wing” and an eastern “research wing” that includes adult and teen departments. Also on the to-do list: a $40,000 budget for 20 to 30 pieces of art that would be sought through an open call to local artists. The library would have a couple of gallery spaces as well for changing exhibits.

The renovation plan’s reconfigured interior spaces as displayed at the Feb. 7 community meeting. The plan is oriented with the main Mount Vernon Highway entrance at the bottom. (John Ruch)

“It’s like the cherry on top of the ice cream,” said Lionell Thomas, Fulton County’s director of arts and culture, about the public art plan.

Before anything happens, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners must be asked to approve the budget increase to cover the final design.

The Sandy Springs Branch project is part of the second and last phase of a system-wide renovation and construction program dating to a 2008 voter-approved bond. The local branch’s renovation budget in that program was $2,899,686, according to Fulton County. Al Collins, the administrator of the bond program, said that needs to increase by about $446,000 to cover the new design and today’s rising construction costs. The system-wide renovation budget can be tweaked to find the money, he said.

Joe Alcock of McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture, right, explains the renovation plan to attendees of the Feb. 7 meeting. (John Ruch)

Collins said there is no guarantee the commission will approve a budget increase, but added that he believes library officials “have a strong case … I believe that the commissioners will understand.”

The budget, the refined design and the juggling of the several remaining branch renovations have resulted in some uncertainty and delay to the Sandy Springs Branch construction schedule. The start is already a bit later and the estimated construction closure period a bit longer than officials estimated at last year’s meeting. Collins said that officials are still aiming for an April-to-October construction schedule, but Alcock indicated a construction start of May at the earliest and July at the latest.

A conceptual design for the new information desk as displayed at the Feb. 7 community meeting. (John Ruch)

Another factor limiting some landscaping and parking details at the moment are the city’s proposals to widen Mount Vernon Highway for a multi-use path or multi-modal lane and to reconfigure the street’s intersection with Johnson Ferry Road. Those ideas remain in the concept stage. Among the possible impacts, officials said, are the loss of parking spaces and the relocation of existing public art.

Interior design concepts for the children’s area and the main corridor of the “research wing” as displayed at the Feb. 7 community meeting. (John Ruch)

The following are some of the proposed improvements in the renovation:

Overall building upgrades

  • Complete exterior renovation, including all new windows and a new roof.
  • Complete interior renovation, including new furniture and shelving.
  • Self-checkout stations, two or three of them in different locations.
  • An improved Wi-Fi internet connection system and a “Technology Zone” with 30 public computers, up from 18 available today.
  • Conversion of the existing meeting room in the friends group’s bookstore, with space for on-site book storage, not off-site as it is today. The friends group’s area would increase from 416 square feet to 762 square feet.
  • A new meeting room created in today’s teen area and friends group bookstore area with a capacity of 90 to 100, about 50 percent higher than today’s meeting room. A kitchenette would be added. Two smaller meeting spaces would be created elsewhere in the building.
  • A vending machine area with seating.
  • A central information desk beneath decorative hanging ceiling features – “we call them lily pads,” Alcock said – to make it easy to spot.
  • Ramps on the eastern walkway to make it accessible to people with disabilities, and the replacement of the swinging entrance doors with automated sliding versions.
  • Expanded and upgraded restrooms.
  • Landscaping upgrades, including new signs on both Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry. Some trees may be removed as unhealthy, Alcock said.
  • New safety equipment, including a sprinkler system and security cameras inside and outside.

‘Children’s wing’ upgrades

  • A new children’s computer lab in the building’s southwest corner.
  • A larger reading area created in an enclosed space at the front of the building, with about 1,000 square feet compared to today’s 325 square feet.
  • A “maker space” or “art room” where kids can create arts and crafts.

A lingering concern expressed by residents at the meeting was insulating the rest of the library from noise made by children in their section. Alcock said the system is moving away from the “‘shhh’ library” tradition to more of a “Barnes & Noble” bookstore concept that embraces some conversation and the noise of children having fun. He also said the library’s wing configuration has some built-in sound reduction. However, he said the design team will look at additional sound-absorbing materials, such as acoustic ceiling panels.

‘Research wing’ upgrades

  • The central corridor’s skylights would be replaced with clear glass for maximum daylight.
  • A “Teen Zone,” meaning a dedicated space for teens with distinctive furnishings and some age-appropriate materials.
  • Four new, enclosed study rooms, each holding four to six people. The rooms would have movable dividers so they could be configured into fewer, larger rooms if needed.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.