You’ll have to wait awhile longer before checking out books at the downtown Durham library again.
The main library has been undergoing a major renovation since most of it was torn down. A 2019 reopening has now been pushed back to early 2020.
Durham County leaders got a look inside the building under construction at 300 N. Roxboro St. and signed the final steel beam in a topping-out ceremony Thursday morning.
“This library will become the center of downtown,” said County Commissioners Chair Wendy Jacobs. “As downtown development is moving further east, this truly could become the center of downtown.”
The new library will feature a lot of glass like the East Regional and North Regional library branches, which opened in 2006 and 2007. It will also have a rooftop garden and large center staircase.
The main entrance will be on Liberty Street, and the parking area will remain the same.
Vines Architecture of Raleigh designed the building, which will be almost 20,000 square feet larger than the old library, a 30 percent increase. Skanska and Holt Brothers are doing the construction. A few dozen workers in hard hats also attended the topping-out ceremony. Everyone at the ceremony signed the steel beam that was later hoisted by a crane and moved into place on the building.
When it reopens, the library will have a MakerLab, more public computers, music and video, collaboration areas for library and community use, a more accessible North Carolina Collection, and an outdoor public plaza. It will also be more energy efficient.
“It’s not a delay,” library spokeswoman Stephanie Bonestell said. “How it was explained to me is you don’t truly know how long it’s going to take until you get in there [once construction starts],” she said.
Bonestell said the staff members are eager to go back there. Some are working in other office space downtown, but “it’s kind of sad not being in an actual library.” There’s something at the library called “Lucky Day,” when new, popular books arrive, and she got to see the excited readers. That’s just one reason she is looking forward to working in the building again.
The library closed in January 2017 for the $44.3 million renovation funded by a bond referendum voters passed in 2016. The first year of the project was spent demolishing most of the old building. The books, North Carolina Collection and offices were moved off site at other branches and in new office space.
On Thursday, County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said when she moved to Durham in 1980, there were two reasons to come downtown: to pay your taxes or go to the library. The library on Roxboro Street opened in 1980 and was “serving as the hub of our relatively dead downtown,” Reckhow said. She brought her children back then and said it was a jewel in downtown that over time lost its brilliance.
Commissioner James Hill said he remembers going to the old downtown library on Main Street when he was a kid. He called the North and East Regional branches impressive structures. “And then we had this building.”
Hill said he looks forward to it opening as the center of “our new, reborn downtown.”