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$7.3M later, renovated Portland library prepares to greet the public

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$7.3M later, renovated Portland library prepares to greet the public

PORTLAND — The Public Library on Monument Square is set to reopen next week, following a year of renovations that have transformed the space into a brighter, sunnier and more open place to read, go online or take in an event.

The $7.3 million renovation project included constructing a new enclosed glass facade and opening up the first floor of the library with exposed slate staircases, skylights and views from the front to the back of the building.

"It feels wide open," Stephen Podgajny, the library director, said during a tour on Monday.

When the library reopens April 15, visitors will be able to enter either on the corner of Elm and Congress streets, or from Monument Square. Instead of entering through a "wind tunnel," as Podgajny described the old entrance, the new glassed-in front will welcome visitors with cafe-style seating that feels like its right on Congress Street – but with the luxury of radiantly heated floors and a soaring ceiling.

A few steps up from the street level and behind a half-wall of glass, there is additional seating for newspaper readers. Behind that there are 36 computer stations. There are also easily accessible new bathrooms.

An open staircase to the left of the first-floor entry leads down to the new Lewis Gallery, an expanded Rines Auditorium and five meeting rooms.

Podgajny said the front of the library and the entry to the lower level can be gated off after hours, so those public spaces can remain open for special events.

"We can stay open for First Friday Art Walk now, and have events at Rines," he said.

The conference rooms ring Rines, enclosed by full glass walls and doors to let in light and open the space . Two of the rooms have partial glass ceilings that allow natural light in from the first floor.

Back on the first floor, past the computer and gathering spaces that Podgajny said are designed to handle noise and chaos, are the librarian stations, media and new fiction. Continuing toward that back, the new Sam L.  Cohen Children's Room is designed with lower ceilings, lights that resemble birds and lots of small, window seating areas that overlook Preble Street.

"The library really embraces downtown now, instead of walling it off," Podgajny said of the window views, which extend throughout the renovated spaces. Book stacks throughout the first floor are also much lower, to give the space an open feel, and large palm trees and glass dividers are used instead of solid walls to define sections.

Opposite the new kids' area (but walled off)  is adult fiction, and there is new counter seating along the Elm Street wall.

A teen section has been constructed along the Elm Street side of the building, too, with its own entrance opposite what many refer to as Portland High School's "Freshmen Alley."

The teen area is closed off with low stacks and glass. On the Elm Street side, two glass cube rooms were constructed as group study spaces. There are 12 computers for use by teenagers, and a lounge area. In that area, a large flat- screen monitor will be installed and Podgajny said it may be used for group use or for a Wii station.

"We've made a huge commitment of square footage and of belief in these kids," Podgajny said.

Six flat-screen monitors are installed throughout the renovated library to display information about library use and upcoming events.

While the library plans on a second phase of renovations to complete the second and third floors of the building, Podgajny said the plan is to get used to the current transformation first.

"We'll work this out and then think about (fundraising) for Phase 2," he said.

An opening ceremony and formal ribbon cutting is scheduled for Thursday, April 15, at noon.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net