Dinkytown library seeks to become community destination through renovation

The remodeling preserves key features of the Brutalist-style building.

Tiffany Bui

The start of renovations for Dinkytown’s public library signals the conclusion of many months of focused discussion. 

After five years of planning, final renderings for Hennepin County’s Southeast Library were unveiled to the public Wednesday. The update will improve the building’s infrastructure and open up more space while preserving key features of the original architect’s design. 

The county began debating whether to renovate or relocate the building in 2013. A community advisory committee, composed of residents from surrounding University of Minnesota neighborhoods, formed to map out the library’s future. 

The facility had a lot of physical issues, said Hung Russell, co-president of Friends of Southeast Library, a group that facilitates neighborhood outreach. 

The 55-year-old library had a leaky roof, and the mechanical system needed improvements. Although the library is meant to be a shared public space, there was a shortage of meeting rooms, and it was only open three days a week.

“When we had our meeting, we were encouraged to think beyond the building and how it should function in the future,” Russell said. “There was a consensus that we wanted this to be a focal point for the community,” he added.

A renewed connective space

Community members, public officials and architects alike expressed interest in attracting more students. Opening the basement floor, one of the renovation highlights, will increase the number of meeting rooms available. 

“Something that we wanted to enhance was that students can go to the University library … but this connection to the community is something that is vital that this library can provide,” said Todd Grover, lead architect with MacDonald and Mack Architects.

Students with children will be able to find a supportive environment at the library, said Hennepin County librarian Johannah Genett.

“We know working parents in college are very busy, and we want to create spaces that will welcome them,” Genett said. The basement floor will include a youth room with a new theme every month.

Former Dinkytown resident Ardes Johnson said it was important to her that the library stayed in the area.

“I think that’s important that libraries can still function in people’s lives,” Johnson said. “University students just need to know that the library exists.”

Rapson legacy lives on

Ralph Rapson, who headed the University’s School of Architecture for 30 years, designed the facility, which opened as a credit union in 1963. It was converted to a library four years later. 

Modernizing the library has been a balance of historic preservation and necessary refurbishment. Reusing the Brutalist-style building rather than demolishing it has been a point of excitement for architects.

Grover said the team researched Rapson’s original sketches to understand the original features. The ceiling and columns of exposed concrete are part of the Brutalist form. 

The architects aimed to work within Rapson’s design “knowing that there are changes that have to take place, but how those changes respect the original architecture is really important,” Grover said. Southeast Library is one of Rapson’s few remaining public buildings. 

Renovation work is set to start by the end of the year, which will close the library for ten months.