The new patio area on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Forest Park Public Library. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Alicia Hammond, Forest Park Public Library’s head of community engagement, reflected that, more than 2 years after they completed a major renovation project, those changes are still new to many patrons coming through their doors.

“Our first renovation [project] was over in February 2020,” she said. “We had a big party – and then, less than a month later, we had to shut down [due to COVID]. I still think – people are coming back, and they’re starting just now to use the [renovated] spaces as intended.”

A second round of renovations, which took place throughout this fall and largely finished up in late November, aren’t quite as noticeable, but they still go toward the goal of enhancing the patron experience and making the building more energy efficient. The library got a new outdoor patio that the staff will be able to use for activities during warmer months. The building also got a new elevator that’s more accommodating to the needs of people using mobility devices, new lighting fixtures and ceiling tiles, and new front doors. The lower-level study rooms’ wooden panels were replaced with glass.

New window treatments are seen on the windows on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Forest Park Public Library. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

 The library previously completed $1.35 million in more substantial renovations. Most notably, that included expanding the youth services section, building a new, separate teen area on the main floor, moving the staff offices to the lower level, and building four new study rooms and the Quiet Room. That project began in September 2019 and ended in late January 2020.

Hammond said the second project, which was funded through the library’s capital budget, was largely designed to repair and replace structures that date back to when the building opened in 1995. The ceiling tiles on both floors were starting to show their age, as were the ceiling lights, she said. The new lights are more energy-efficient, which will save the library money in the long-run and are contributing to the library’s long-term goal of becoming more energy-efficient.

Window repairs also helped with energy efficiency, Hammond said, and they got new blinds in the process. Less visibly, the building received HVAC upgrades.

New lighting is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at the Forest Park Public Library. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The two automatic front doors were replaced as well. Hammond said that, unlike the previous doors, the sensors were redesigned so they would never open at the same time and would be less sensitive to patrons standing in between two doors. This means heat from the building doesn’t blow outside. 

“They’re not as responsive, so they don’t close as quickly,” Hammond said.

She said one major issue with the previous elevator was that the buttons were by the front door, which forced wheelchair users and other people with mobility devices to awkwardly try to turn around just to get downstairs. The new elevator has a control panel in the back. 

But perhaps the most noticeable change is the patio that was built on the library lawn, to the left of the entrance. Hammond said while the library hasn’t finalized how it would be used, the general idea is to have ‘crafting, art programs, music” and some STEM learning activities for kids. During the pandemic, the library expanded the range of its patron wireless network – something that, Hammond said, will benefit the patio programming.

The library planted five trees that will eventually grow to provide shade. 

The patio currently only has one picnic table. Hammond said that it will be up to the new library director, who is expected to be hired in January 2023, to figure out what other furniture would go on the patio, and generally fine-tune the concept for what the patio can be used for. 

Hammond, who’s been working at the library for over 10 years, said that, between the two renovations, the library feels bigger and “more of a 21st century [building].” And she hopes that, as the library continues to expand in-person programming and more patrons visit the library, they will be able to appreciate everything the library did over the past few years.

“We spent a lot of time planning what we would like the library to be, and what kind of [amenities] we can offer , and we’re finally seeing people use them the way they were meant to be used,” Hammond said.