Exactly 16 months after Hale Library caught fire, K-State’s dean of libraries Lori Goetsch walked not through rubble, but between plastic-covered chairs, tables and other library equipment on the library’s first floor Tuesday morning.
The May 2018 fire led to smoke and water damage that destroyed 85% of the library’s interior. Although the library had just been weeks away from renovating the first floor, the damage ballooned the library’s renovation plans to include the whole place.
After $7 million in donations and $58 million from the university’s insurance policies so far, the library plans to open Hale’s first floor to students on Wednesday, just missing the first day of K-State’s fall semester.
The library’s first floor, which formerly housed the library’s periodical section and other collections, now features 14 collaboration rooms for students to use as study spaces and working on projects.
“Students would be very creative about creating their own spaces with whiteboards and furniture and that sort of thing, so we recognized that need and thought this would be a good chance to fill it,” Goetsch said.
Students will now be able to enter the library directly from the first floor sunflower entrance on the south end of the building. The library’s new configuration means the library will be able to close off specific floors to keep others open, and library officials hope to begin 24-hour operations from Sunday to Friday later this semester.
A $2.5 million innovation lab, funded by the Sunderland Foundation from Leawood, is set to open next summer on the floor. The lab will include next-generation technologies, such as virtual reality and artificial intelligence, for students to use.
On the floor’s east end, K-State Housing and Dining Services will eventually open a second Cornerstone Café, designed much like the first one it opened at Wefald Hall.
A fire scare earlier this month turned out to be construction dust, and Goetsch says the library will be protected by a new sprinkler system, and in making the renovations, the library is following stricter fire codes than had been in place when much of the library was originally constructed.
The rest of the library should finish restoration work by the end of 2020, with the second floor scheduled to open in the spring. The library’s historic murals on its upper floors will be evaluated and restored once work on the rest of the building is complete, Goetsch said, to prevent further damage from dust and other construction hazards.
“It seems both fast and slow at the same time,” Goetsch said. “When we were going through the recovery process, which involved demolition and all that, it seemed like it was taking forever up until the results we see here today. But it’s also been quite fast, with 16 months of our staff having some real challenges being dispersed around campus to several different locations. It probably seems like a long time to them.”
But in looking back at four generations of construction since the library’s first component, Farrell Library, was constructed in 1927, Goetsch considers Hale’s reopening as a new generation in the library’s history.
“I think it’s going to be quite different than it was previously,” Goetsch said. “We decided it was going to be a little more contemporary on the inside with modernized furniture and features. We like to think of it as a next-generation library.”