Students at Forest Park Middle School returned this fall to a newly renovated Library Media Center. Now, about a month into classes, the center, which occupies the same second floor space as the old library, is getting its last few pieces of furniture and book shelves delivered, just in time for the open house this Thursday evening. 

The Thursday debut to community members and parents caps a yearlong effort by school administrators and staff to renovate the communal learning space. District 91 spent $67,336.50 on new furniture and shelving units, according to Rebecca Latham, a district spokesperson. Add in paint and carpeting and the grand total comes to $79,136.50. Richard Hearn led the effort to transform the space, which began just after he transitioned from teaching sixth- and seventh-grade reading and language arts to his current role as library media specialist. 

“I had been trying to rebrand the space,” Hearn said. “The idea of a library is great but it should be more than just books.”

Twelve months later, the remodeled center includes updated furniture, fresh carpeting, a new pastel color scheme and an imposing circulation desk. About a dozen computers were removed from the room and the slimmer tables and chairs are much more movable. With all students now outfitted with Google Chromebooks, desktop computers were no longer so necessary, though a few workstations still ring the room. There are now several electronic charging stations, too.

The new design allows for better collaboration, Hearn said, with students and teachers able to reposition furniture to suit any given project, lesson or activity. For instance, tables can be lined up for a lecture or split into smaller formations for a group project.

Hearn solicited inspiration from a few other suburban school libraries, brought in furniture for students and teachers to test last school year, and bounced ideas off Assistant Library Media Specialist Cheri Bussert, a longtime district employee.

Principal Joseph Pisano welcomed the updates.

“The library we had before was a bit outdated,” Pisano said. “Libraries are important. It’s a place where students should want to go.”

Construction occurred over several weeks this summer, with the library’s entire book collection having to be moved off the shelves and into storage. But with the work now nearly complete, students have enjoyed spending time in the new space, Hearn said. Teachers now hold meetings in the room’s central table, too.

“It’s been very cool to see how excited the kids are,” Latham added. “The space is just so much more conducive to collaboration.”

About a third of the student body, around 100 kids, use the center on any given school day, Hearn estimated. He then stressed the importance of making sure the space is welcoming and enjoyable for all. With the renovations, that goal is now more achievable. 

“I started with just asking for a new coat of paint,” Hearn said.