Wilson Library renovations at a standstill unless UMN gets state funding

The changes that would free up book space and let in more natural light aren’t currently included in state funding proposals.

Marketing major Ben Sundem pulls books from Wilson Library on April 21, 2015. A $60 million update is planned for the building, with the project currently in the pre-design phase.

Image by Holly Peterson, Daily File Photo

Marketing major Ben Sundem pulls books from Wilson Library on April 21, 2015. A $60 million update is planned for the building, with the project currently in the pre-design phase.

by Rilyn Eischens

The Wilson Library renovations will be at a standstill unless the University of Minnesota receives project funding from the State Legislature this year.

The University requested $4 million from the state for the design phase of the Collections and Contemporary Learning project, which includes library improvements. The project, however, isn’t included in capital investment bills from the legislature or in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget recommendation.

The project —slated to be the first major work on the building since it was built in the 1960s — won’t move past its pre-design phase, which began last fall, without the additional funds. The project’s total budget is $60 million, said University associate librarian for research and learning Claire Stewart.

The state provided about two-thirds of the $54,000 pre-design budget, according to Board of Regents documents. An architectural engineering firm is working with the University to find what renovations would be feasible within the overall budget, Stewart said, and the design phase would have more specific room-by-room planning.

The University proposed investing $2 million of the $6 million needed to fund the design phase, said Amanda Aspenson, design project manager for University Capital Planning and Project Management. Officials will request additional state funding for construction as the project moves forward, she said.

Officials hope the library will see construction from 2018 to 2022, but the project timeline relies on state funding, Stewart said.

Wilson Library was built in 1968 and hasn’t had a significant renovation since, she said. It was built to hold 1.5 million volumes in 1968, but now stores 3.4 million.

“Pretty much every library facility is at capacity. We’re shelving stuff up above in areas where it’s not supposed to be shelved. We’ve had to have stuff in book carts in people’s offices,” Stewart said, adding the caverns built below Andersen Library to store books are also full.

As a result, Wilson has lost about 800 seating spaces since it was first built.

The Collections and Contemporary Learning project also includes the renovation of Murphy Warehouse, a building purchased by the University in 2015 to store library materials in the hopes of freeing up space for library users.

Right now, the warehouse isn’t suitable for collections storage, said Shaan Hamilton, director of University Library Finance and Facilities. It needs more insulation and better climate control to prevent paper decay, he said.

University officials are weighing several options for the Murphy building. The ideal renovation would store 4.6 million volumes with a 20-year capacity, according to the school’s capital request for the program.

Moving some Wilson collections to Murphy Warehouse would allow for the proposed renovations, like an atrium, increased spaces for group work and an area for advanced research support, Stewart said.

The pre-design proposal also includes putting glass windows around the entire first floor to let in more natural light, she said.

Decisions about how to change the space were based on surveys and focus groups with students, staff and faculty, she said, and officials prioritized student needs because they use the library most.

Irene Duranczyk, chair of the University’s Library Committee, said she’s optimistic the renovations would make the building more appealing to the campus community.

“The library should be the center of [the] experience at the University,” she said. “Our libraries are not centers of spaces that are inviting.”