The final chapter on Arlington’s 40-year-old George W. Hawkes library is being written as city leaders turn their attention to creating a new downtown library.
The City Council recently approved committing $24.9 million to an 80,000-square-foot library that is expected to be built within two years just north of City Hall. The project will include a public plaza, parking spaces and a separate 6,500-square-foot building with a combined council chamber and library meeting space.
The new library will provide additional space for technology and services such as genealogy research and specialized programming for all ages that residents demand, Libraries Director Cary Siegfried said.
“There really isn’t anything that is not going to be improved on and enlarged and expanded in some way,” Siegfried said. “That is one of the most exciting parts of this.”
Arlington has been working with consultants and community members to develop plans for a new library since 2009. The 63,000-square-foot Central Library east of City Hall has significant maintenance issues and is too small to offer the services residents say they want. The library is expected to be demolished to make way for a private mixed-use development that, if the city approves, would include apartments, offices and restaurants.
Siegfried said the plans for the new library will move forward even if the mixed-use development doesn’t. Arlington will begin searching for an architect this month to create plans for the three-story library, which is expected to feature brick and lots of natural lighting, Siegfried said. Like the current library, the new one will be on the south side of the downtown railroad tracks.
“We know what is going to go into the building,” Siegfried said, adding that community input gathered over the past several years has helped shape the plans. “We are ahead of the game in that respect.”
Additional public meetings are expected, she said.
Instead of one combined children’s area for newborns to 12-year-olds, the new library will offer zoned areas with interactive features, programming and amenities based on reading level. That includes a early literacy area for preschool-age children and a dedicated story-time room. Teens will continue to have their own space for books, classes and computer work as well.
Patrons interested in exploring their family roots or the city’s past will find a larger area with computers and public displays dedicated to genealogy and local history, Siegfried said.
Other additions include a used-book store where the Friends of the Arlington Public Library can raise funds year-round, quiet areas where patrons can read books or magazines or work from their tablets or laptops, and a variety of meeting spaces for gatherings, study and classes ranging from four people to more than 100.
The downtown library is expected to remain open at least another six or seven months, depending on how quickly Integral Development of Atlanta and Catalyst Development of Dallas want to tear down the building for their project, Siegfried said. The library will move its collection to a warehouse, but all items will be available for checkout during the transition.
The library hopes to maintain a small temporary location downtown, but a site has not been identified, Siegfried said.
“Our collection will be in storage, but our couriers will make the warehouse a daily stop,” she said.
To fund the project, Arlington will issue $19.5 million in certificates of obligation, which do not require voter approval and are repaid through property taxes. The rest is expected to come from a $4 million grant from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation and $1.3 million from the parks gas well fund. The Arlington Public Library Foundation is expected to raise $3 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment.
Before the library closes, Siegfried said, officials hope to organize a way for residents to share their memories of it.
“We’ll try not to be too sad. We’ll celebrate where we are going as well,” Siegfried said. “This library has been a big part of the community for 40 years.”