Library expansion put on hold

By DerekKucynda

After discovering structural problems at the South Campus Building, 624 S. Michigan Ave., Columbia’s library has shifted a portion of its book collection to a remote location.

With approximately 13,000 books added each year, the library currently holds about 270,000 books in its collection. After possibilities were researched and explored for the expansion of the library, the Office of Campus Environment learned that the timber structure holding the South Campus Building was in need of repair.

Roland Hansen, head of Access Services and Space Planning for the library, said that due to the weight of the library’s collection, which surpassed the structural capacity of the building, certain books had to be moved to accommodate more timely titles.

After running an automated access report detailing the circulation of books in the library, Hansen said the least used books were moved to a storage facility in June. However,  students will be able to submit an electronic request to borrow books currently being stored at the remote facility.

“You’ll still be able to get [the books], but you won’t get them immediately,” Hansen said. “That will allow us to keep the new books and the most popular books here in the library together.”

The library must move 50,000 books in order to expand the aisle spacing from 42 to 54 inches, which will free up space and weight inside the library.

During the summer, Forefront Structural Engineering came in to access the structural situation. They have yet to release a final report on their recommendations to remedy the situation, Hansen said.

After investigating plans to expand the library to reach a portion of the 6th floor, the Office of Campus Environment discovered that the timber foundation in the South Campus Building needed to be stabilized, said Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment.

“Doing the due diligence to explore those expansion possibilities, we discovered that the building’s structural design isn’t sufficient to handle the weight of the library over time,” Berg said.

She said the 5th floor of the 618 S. Michigan Ave. building is currently being used as a temporary storage area for some of the excess books in the library.

“We’ve been working very closely with the library and we’ve already made some changes to remove some of the weight load,” Berg said. “It’s very important to know that the building is safe to occupy.”

Buildings like the South Campus Building commonly used a wood timber foundation when they were built in 1908, which was typical for buildings constructed during that time. Currently,  the building’s mechanical systems, such as the heating and boiler systems, had to be relocated in order to complete the structural redesign.

“The changes in the water table have impacted the structural integrity of those wood support systems, so that issue needs to be fixed,” Berg said. “Even if the library wasn’t in the building, the foundation matters would [still] have to get fixed.”

As they continue their investigation and gather measurements, the Office of Campus Environment is working on a design solution that is cost-effective, thoroughly researched and will have minimal disruption to offices and classes in the building. Berg said the project does not have a set date for completion because the Office of Campus Environment has yet to assess the total work needed to support the foundation.

“It’s an expensive, significant project, so we really want to make sure that we do our homework,” Berg said. “It looks like it’s going to require extensive work, so it will be phased over time. Most likely [the project will take] more than one year [to complete].”

David Saunders, a junior film & video major who regularly uses the library, said he feels secure in the South Campus Building. However, he said the college should have alternate escape routes.

“Maybe [the college] should have an emergency plan put into action,” Saunders said. “If there was an emergency [and] students had to rush out, there should be another escape route or stairway besides the main stairs. For the most part, [I think] the library is pretty secure.”