By Kelcey Norris
Since 1910, the Youngstown Public Library has served the community by providing a place to gather and learn. With a new $25 million renovation of the main branch underway, developers hope to honor the past and create a space to brighten Youngstown’s future with literature and events.
Expansions include a spacious public terrace where community members will be able to lounge with a good book or practice yoga in between the main building and St. John’s Episcopal Church. Larger gathering areas, study rooms and a culinary literacy center to help people learn about healthy eating will also be added in the 6,000-foot expansion.
Prior renovations of the historic Andrew Carnegie library took place in 1954 and 1996. Before their removal in the 1950s, a large staircase and two lampposts beckoned visitors to the front entrance on Wick Avenue. These elements will be brought back to life in the renovation, slated for full completion in the spring of 2022.
Executive director Aimee Fifarek said the team prioritizes bringing back some of these elements in homage.
“In the past, especially with the renovation done in the ’50s, we lost the great historic detail that made that building great,” Fifarek said. “We wanted to get some of that beauty back into the project, like natural light, flexibility and space for people. If you look back at the historic photos, you’ll see it was not about stuff when this building was originally built, it was about people space.”
Rick Ortmeyer, lead architect with Bostwick Design Partnership of Cleveland, collaborated with Fifarek’s team to “create a 21st century library on Wick Avenue, leveraging the wonderful history of the existing building, but also demonstrating that the library is very forward-looking.”
Ortmeyer, who designed 70 libraries in his career, said the flexibility and inclusivity of the community’s needs were his focus.
“We wanted the community to see itself in this new expansion,” Ortmeyer said. “The culinary literacy center is going to be truly unique, nationally, in terms of library programming and library space that supports that programming.”
Janet Loew, library communications and public relations manager, coined the motto “vibrant history, bright future” for the renovation project.
“The project was also going to incorporate things our Founding Fathers never would have thought of … in 1880 when we were formed,” Loew said. “Bright future indicates we’re moving forward with technology, new services, flexibility with the spaces introduced that we may not even be thinking of today that may come along in the next 25 years.”
The open outdoor terrace and ability to collaborate with others safely can positively impact the community’s outlook on life during trying times, according to Fifarek.
“We now have scientific research that says experiencing awe in nature and beauty around you can improve your mental health and general outlook on life,” she said. “The community has made decades of investments in us as an institution and this library, specifically, so we want to continue returning on that investment.”
The team incorporates what was memorable about the facility for prior generations and expands on the possibilities for current needs. Paul Hagman from RBF CoLab, landscape architects from Pashek+MTR and CT Consultants will also bring their expertise to the construction process.
“The expansion is a handsome addition to this historic building, but not to try to replicate history. Instead, celebrate a modern vision looking forward, while still enhancing and restoring the beauty of the original building adjacent,” Ortmeyer said.