Breaking News

Proposed 0 million main library seen as ‘spectacular’ addition to Omaha’s crossroads | Politics & Government

Proposed $100 million main library seen as ‘spectacular’ addition to Omaha’s crossroads | Politics & Government

Plans are moving forward on what the City of Omaha and private partners envision as a world-class, 21st century public library at 72nd and Dodge Streets, creating a signature new civic institution and place for the public to gather at the city’s historic crossroads.

Architects’ renderings for the proposed main city library released Thursday show a modular brick and glass structure, with angular, glassy entrances intended to connote a book being cracked open.

Features inside would include aisles to browse for books, a cafe, spaces to use technology and create, areas for kids to read or get homework help, public meeting rooms, and perhaps even space for recording podcasts.

The south side would open to a courtyard featuring gardens, a kids’ play area, a dining patio and quiet places to sit down with a book.

And right at the southwest corner of what has long been one of Omaha’s most visible, high-traffic intersections would be a tree-lined public plaza. In the future, as groups of Omahans come out to celebrate or make themselves heard, they may choose to gather on that corner rather than across the street under the old sign for the defunct Crossroads shopping mall.

People are also reading…

“What if you built the most important civic building in Omaha on the corner that has actually been our town square?” said Rachel Jacobson of Heritage Omaha, the philanthropic organization that has been working with the city, the library board and other partners on the project. “It actually makes a lot of sense.”

With a total cost estimated to exceed $100 million, the library is still not a done deal. But it clearly continues to move in that direction.

Heritage Omaha, made up of some of the city’s biggest and most influential philanthropists, has pledged to raise the lion’s share of the construction dollars if the project moves forward, Jacobson said.

The city would pay $20 million toward construction costs, take ownership and then operate the library as part of its current library system. City officials say the city’s commitment to construction costs will be included as redevelopment bonds in Omaha’s 2024 and 2025 capital improvement plans.

The new library could open by 2025.

A rendering of the proposed new Omaha main library at 72nd and Dodge Streets, looking to the southwest. The glass entry is intended to connote a book being cracked open.

Images of the library’s exterior were revealed publicly for the first time Thursday during a meeting of the board of the Omaha Public Library. And it’s already receiving positive reviews.

“I think (the library’s design) will cause a lot of interest when people see it,” said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. “How they designed the building, I think, is spectacular.”

Rebecca Stavick of Do Space, the technology library currently located at the planned main library site, called the images stunning.

“The new central library is really going to be world class,” said Stavick, Do Space’s CEO. “I don’t know of anything like it in the Midwest.”

A formal proposal detailing the planning and financing of the project is expected to go before the Omaha City Council in coming months.

The new facility would replace the W. Dale Clark Library as the city’s main library. The city for years has mulled a replacement for the aging downtown library and the possibility of moving the main branch to a more central location.

The city already is moving ahead with plans to demolish the downtown library later this year to make way for construction of Mutual of Omaha’s new office tower, a move that has sparked controversy. The city also is in the process of opening up a new downtown branch library at 14th and Jones Streets.

The new main library would rise on the current Do Space site, and the services and programs of the donor-created technology library — such as technology classes and use of equipment like 3D printers — would be incorporated into the new facility and expanded.

Technology currently provided by the city’s public libraries, while an important asset to the community, has always been “hampered,” said Laura Marlane, executive director of Omaha Public Library (OPL).

“We’ve had boundaries that we’ve had to work within that have done nothing but hold us back,” Marlane said. “We need to be able to offer modern library technology to patrons, and this doesn’t just put us there, it puts us way ahead of the curve.”

Do Space has been a partner in planning the new facility, along with Stothert’s administration, the Omaha library board, the fundraising Omaha Public Library Foundation, and Heritage.

Heritage earlier this year also raised money to bring in other consultant partners, including Omaha-based architecture and engineering firm HDR as lead designer.

The partners launched a public input period in January. Through surveys and stakeholder meetings, Omahans were asked what kind of services they wanted to see in a new main library.

Tops on the list for the new main library were traditional library services like book browsing and lectures, followed by the kind of technology and maker spaces currently provided by Do Space. A coffee shop/cafe also was high on the list.

Marlane said the results were consistent with what library surveys have found over the years.

“Ultimately, people want welcoming spaces and they want access to more materials and resources,” Marlane said.

To find inspiration for the design and features of the new library, representatives of the partner organizations traveled to take in three other libraries around the world.

They first visited the library at North Carolina State University to see its automated book retrieval system, a robotic system that allows books to be more efficiently stored floor to ceiling. The Omaha library could become the first public library in the country to utilize the system.

The partner representatives then visited the public libraries in Calgary, Canada, and Oslo, Norway, two global standouts in modern library design. There, they picked up ideas for making the Omaha library more welcoming and engaging to people of all ages.

The potential for growing library utilization was also on display during those trips. The Oslo library, built on a former freeway interchange, has been drawing 11,000 visitors a day.

“The design team came back really inspired,” said Jacobson, Heritage Omaha’s president.

main library 2

The courtyard on the back side of the proposed library would provide a quieter place, including a dining patio, kids’ play area and places to sit down with a book.

The stakeholder work and travel largely informed planning for the library’s interior, details of which will be shared with the public at a June 6 meeting planned for 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Highlander event hall, located in Seventy Five North. But plans for the building’s exterior and grounds are already taking shape, as evidenced by HDR’s first concept images released Thursday.

The exterior is a modular design of brick and glass. Rather than traditional windows, each floor will have clear glass block panels on multiple levels between floor and ceiling.

“We wanted something beautiful and original,” Jacobson said.

It has two main entrances, one on the building’s northeast corner near 72nd and Dodge and the other on the west side, next to a two-story parking structure that would serve patrons.

Both entrances are glassy and triangular, intended to spark the image of cracking open a book and entering a different world, said Tom Trenolone, a vice president and design director with HDR.

The front of the building along Dodge Street angles away from the 72nd and Dodge intersection, creating space for the public plaza.

Crowds have long been drawn to the busy intersection, from fans celebrating Nebraska’s national football championships to those protesting or campaigning for various causes, including recent demonstrations in support of war-torn Ukraine.

While the front side of the building along Dodge is bustling, the back side facing Davenport Street would be a much quieter space, Trenolone said, with its gardens, play area and outdoor seating forming a “green oasis.” The courtyard off the back of the library would be surrounded by the all-glass exterior on three sides.

In all, the library would have four floors, three accessible to the public and one for offices, mechanical space and book storage. Its total square footage would be less than that of the current main library, but due to more efficient storage of materials, it would allow more space for people.

“We don’t ‘library’ the way we used to,” Trenolone said. “We want this to be a library the rest of the world comes to Omaha to take notice of.”

To Marlane, who has worked in library services for more than 30 years, the project is a “once in a career” opportunity.

“The opportunities this would open up for us as far as service are chances we simply would never get without this project,” Marlane said.

The 72nd and Dodge intersection to some might seem an odd place for a library. It’s among Omaha’s busiest intersections and for decades a retail corridor.

But the accessibility of the site is seen as a big plus. Centrally located, it’s also one of the easiest spots in the city to reach by public transit.

The Dodge Street ORBT bus stops at the intersection, and Metro Transit has plans to one day run a similar route up and down 72nd. It makes the area ripe for more transit-oriented development, Jacobson said.

Mike Kennedy, president of the Omaha Library Board, echoed Jacobson’s thoughts on the location during Thursday’s board meeting.

“I think this is going to activate that part of town and show that we can do it this the right way in creating space that’s pedestrian safe and transportation friendly,” Kennedy said.

main library 3

The west entrance to the proposed library is adjacent to a planned two-story parking garage serving the facility. The view is toward the east along Dodge.

And Do Space, after all, has already proven that a library at 72nd and Dodge can work. Despite the pandemic, the technology library has attracted nearly 1 million visitors since opening in 2015. And due to its easy accessibility, Do Space’s membership is more diverse than the county as a whole.

“There is already a successful library at 72nd and Dodge,” Stavick said.

The new central library has the potential to continue the area’s transition from retail hub to a mix of retail, housing, business and public places.

The northwest section that was once home to the Crossroads Mall is already being redeveloped for multiple uses. And a new apartment complex has gone up just north of the intersection’s northeast corner.

“When I think of this intersection in 10 years, it’s going to be completely transformed,” Stavick said. “If we are going to invest in one spot for a great central library for our city, 72nd and Dodge is a natural fit.”