Published October 2011
In 2005 the Tom Green County Library undertook a major capital effort that would move the main library from its cramped quarters at the Judge Edd B. Keyes Building and adaptively reuse the Hemphill Wells Building, a major downtown building that had been vacant for nearly three decades. When built in 1972, the building housed a thriving department store fully equipped with a restaurant and hair salon. It was the social and geographic center of town. With the demise of downtowns across the nation, the department store closed in 1986. The building remained vacant for 30 years. The community has not forgotten the grandeur represented by the Hemphill Wells Building when it first opened, and has embraced its revitalization.
The community came together to help with the constructions costs to show their support of the project. The total project cost $18 million, and of that money $17.5 million came from private donations and grants. More than 140 different families, businesses, organizations, and foundations donated $10,000 or more to the project.
The new building, which opened in April of this year, has approximately 85,000 square feet of space versus the 35,684 square feet of space that the library had in its previous location.
The Hemphill Wells Building is two-and-a-half stories above grade and one below. Its distinguishing feature is an overhanging second story with rounded corners and rounded edges framing a figurative sculpture on one facade and window on the other. Because of its use as a department store, the ground level façade was opaque with a few display windows. To transform this introverted building into an extroverted center of activity, the street level brick on the two prominent facades has been replaced with undulating glass. Library activities are revealed at one façade, and public gathering at the other. At the intersection of these facades, a portion of the floor directly inside of the library has been removed so that the children’s area of the library located in the lower level is on display and natural light can be seen from the lower level.
There is an infusion of non-traditional library services into this building to support a renewed vitality in downtown San Angelo. The lobby boasts a gallery of local artwork, and a coffee/sandwich shop offers breakfast and lunch options to the employees of the surrounding buildings. A large Community Room is located on the third level adjacent to a roof deck with vivid views of the surrounding downtown structures. This space can be used for meetings, conferences, symposiums, lectures, special events and other programming put on by the library and other community organizations.
The building is organized to allow the lobby and meeting areas to have operating hours independent of the library proper. There are two building entries – one along Beauregard Avenue, the main downtown thoroughfare, and one along Irving convenient to the parking garage. The main pathway slices through the building to connect these entries. To one side is the public lobby, to the other, the library. A glazed wall separates the secured library zone from the lobby. Interrupting this pathway is a cylindrical volume housing the single entry into the library, and the vertical circulation to the penthouse meeting spaces. A smaller, cylindrical volume houses the circulation desk and is located directly across from its larger counterpart. The relationship of these volumes sets the circulation desk as the focal point upon entry into the library. A second pathway separates the public portion of the library from the back of house library operations and runs parallel to the glazed divider of the lobby from the library. This path is adjacent to the circulation desk, elevator, and stairwell within the library. This simple organization is repeated on each floor of the library allowing easy navigation and orientation.
Bringing life to a decades old vacant building is one of the sustainable tenets. A new bus stop is located in front of the building improving public transportation to the library and to this portion of downtown. Most of the existing walls and floors have been reused. To improve energy efficiency, an insulated wall has been added to all exterior walls. The old, leaking roofs have been replaced with new, highly insulated roofs to improve energy efficiency. The exterior roofing membrane meets sustainable reflective qualities to reject the strong West Texas summer heat. The new glazing at the ground level is shaded by the overhanging second level. The glazing also has the most advanced thermal properties available in today’s market. Fritted glass is used strategically to reduce late afternoon glare and improve thermal comfort for the building occupants.
The punched windows are deeply recessed from the exterior face of the building, essentially using the building envelope to reject direct heat energy from the sun. A double layer of glass bricks was installed with an air barrier between to prevent thermal bridging. A high recycled content can be found in the various interior finishes. Materials not recycled are sourced from rapidly renewable products. Toxins are minimized through the careful specification of materials and adhesives improving occupant health. Water conservation techniques have been employed with native planting around the building and motion-sensor plumbing fixtures within. The mechanical and electrical systems have been optimized to reduce operating cost. Energy recovery methods have been employed with the specified mechanical systems.
The materials used for the new library reflect the diverse San Angelo community, an independent spirit, and regional pride. A custom tile with the cowboy logo from the library card clads the entry vestibules. An image of a San Angelo landmark, the Twin Mountains, is digitally imprinted on the 150 foot glass wall separating the library from the lobby. The main circulation cylinder marking the interior entry to the library is enveloped with leather pelts. A lobby wall covering is patterned with three hats representing the main demographic of the community – the cowboy hat, buffalo soldier hat and sombrero. The animals of the southwest make up the patterned wall covering in the children’s area. A southwest color palate sets a warm, friendly, and familiar environment throughout the building.
As downtown San Angelo continues to increase, the library is another addition that has increased traffic in the area. The library averaged 900 people a day in the previous location. Since moving to a more prominent downtown location, the traffic has increased to an average of 1,500 people a day with a high of 1,800 people in one day. Circulation of books has increased by 45 percent and the average amount of time people spend in the library has increased, with people reading books, playing chess, and enjoying the company of others.
The library is not only an aesthetically pleasing addition to the downtown area, it has become an enrichment center with the addition of the “Teens Only” space where teens are now spending the day at the library utilizing computers and other high tech equipment. Parents and children are bonding as never before in the expanded Children’s area, not just reading, but putting puzzles together and experiencing the “tubular” reading nooks. It isn’t unusual to see a chess game or two, and as a vital new component of the Downtown San Angelo Inc.’s monthly Art Walk, Stephen’s Library is promoting the importance and value of the arts with the display of art at the entrance of the library and live music in the food area on Friday and Saturday nights. Additionally, Stephens Library is promoting economic growth with extended hours until 9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Attractive, color-coordinated outdoor seating serves as an invitation to passersby, as well as providing expanded seating for the café.
While other libraries are on the decline, the Stephens Central Library shows the dedication of a community to bring libraries back to life. The building was paid for by the community and is enjoyed by the community. H – By Jessica Behringer, library community relations coordinator