Carnegie renovation to restore legacy

The Carnegie Library restoration project has been years in the making and will restore the building to its former magnificence.

When students think about Carnegie Library, most can probably identify it as the building on the Quad between the Archbold Gym and Bowne Hall. Perhaps they have taken a math course in the building or maybe they were one of the victims as freshmen who tried fruitlessly to open the “doors” on the top of the stone steps—only to realize that the doors are in fact, locked and you are now being watched by curious students in the classroom behind them.

“The need to renovate Carnegie has been on the radar for decades."
- Pamela McLaughlin

Now, when you walk into the building, you can see that the iconic Reading Room—a room once full of long tables and chairs that served as a place of quiet studyis now full of workers on scaffolding and closed off with plastic sheeting.

Alex Byrd, a senior architecture student who has been coming to Carnegie this past semester for her calculus class, said she had not heard about the construction going on before observing it firsthand. “It’s interesting, so I was curious and walking around,” she said, “I watched the guys cleaning the marble and working on the scaffolds.”

Since the summer of 2011, Carnegie Library has been undergoing a large scale reconstruction and restoration project to return the building to its former glory. The project, which has been years in the making, is projected to take 4 to 5 years to complete, according to the Syracuse University Archives.

“The need to renovate Carnegie has been on the radar for decades,” said Pamela McLaughlin, director of communications and external relations for Syracuse University Library. The Carnegie Library opened in 1907 after a $150,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie for a new library, and it served as SU’s main library for more than 60 years.

“It is a very old building,” said Eric Beattie, director of the Office of Campus Planning, Design and Construction. He said the building probably hadn’t had a major renovation since it was built.

According to McLaughlin, the library began discussing the idea of a reconstruction project with the CPDC in April of 2010. Both Beattie and McLaughlin said the idea to reconstruct the library had begun long before that though, when Suzanne Thorin, the dean of SU Library came to campus in 2005.

“I’ve been at the university for nine years. When I came here, we were already talking about renovating Carnegie but the funding hadn’t been figured out yet,” said Beattie. ”But when Suzanne Thorin came hereshe came a bit after I didtogether, we initiated a library master plan study.” The study looked at the entire library system including both the physical space available and programming,  and then made recommendations for upgrading the system.

“Carnegie was one of the ones we talked about that needed attention,” he said.


Current construction

The renovation is a multi-phase project and will amount to several million dollars being invested back into the building, according to Beattie. In the first two years, around $2 million has been committed to the project, he said. Currently, there are two main project goals: the restoration of the Reading Room and completing new classrooms on the first floor.

In the Reading Room, all of tables and chairs and the floor were removed. McLaughlin said that new parquet flooring would be installed over winter break. Additionally, in order to return the Reading Room to its original state, the ambulatories—a series of hallways around all sides of the reading room that enabled students to move around the edges of the room instead of walking through it while others were working—has been restored. Previously, the ambulatories had been closed off by fire doors, she said.

Beattie said that the columns around the perimeter of the room and in the hallways are also being restored. The material, which has an appearance of marble, is actually an ornamental plaster produced by an old technique called scagliola. This was when two different colored plasters would be folded together to give the appearance of different veins of stone running through it. He said the scagliola in Carnegie was really discolored and a small company in New York City called Evergreene Architectural Arts is restoring them.

The Reading Room is also being outfitted with new light fixtures on the walls with pieces that match the period. The lobby chandeliers are also being restored by a local company from Manlius called Robbins Rarities.

Right now, McLaughlin and Beattie expect the Reading Room to be completed in the spring semester and reopened sometime near the end of the semester.

The vestibule is also going to be refurbished and with the removal of the classrooms blocking the front doors, they will open once again. Additionally, the Statue of Diana the Huntress, donated to the university in 1932 by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, will return to her original home in Carnegie. Currently, the statue is on display on the second floor of Bird Library. 


Looking to the future

According to Beattie, the construction schedule remains flexible. When Carnegie was built, he said, there weren’t any building codes that defined how to make sure buildings were built to certain standards, unlike today.

“What we have to do is figure out how an old building fits in to the building code today,” he said, adding that they have been doing an analysis on what needs to be updated to comply with the building code. For example, there are fire protection and emergency exit standard that need to be met, such as making sure the hallways and stairwells are a certain width.

“What we found, for instance, was we needed to move up installing the sprinkler protection system earlier in the project than we initially thought,” Beattie said. Also, before the main doors open, railings must be added to the stone steps for safety reasons.

Looking to the future, Beattie expects to start installing the new sprinkler system in mid-May, after finals. Over the summer, the installation of a new elevator to improve accessibility will begin, with Beattie estimating it will continue into the fall. The side entrances facing the Quad will also see upgrades. Currently, when entering the doors, students have to step down three steps. The steps will be converted into ramps to make Carnegie more accessible.

In 2014, Beattie is also looking to upgrade the bathrooms in the building. “They really need to be on every floor. Our goal is to build stacked bathrooms on every floor in the same place so you can find them and they’ll be sized so you can circulate through them in a wheelchair,” Beattie said.

The bookshelves will also receive attention. This would include painting the shelves, which have become dingy, as well as replacing the original glass floors surrounding the stacks. The stacks in Carnegie are continuous through floor one to the seventh level, with each level being stacked one on top of the other.

“The idea was, with the skylights, the natural light could come all the way down through the stack system and through the glass floors,” Beattie said, adding that they are still assessing this part of the project.

Updates for the electrical systems and the heating and ventilation systems are also in the works. The present system, according to Beattie, is a steam radiator system which lasts for a long time but tends to offer little control over the temperature and often overheats its target. They plan to replace it with a hot water system which is more accurate.

“Hopefully, we won’t see windows open in the middle of winter to keep comfortable in there anymore,” he said. Though they are integrating the plans for the heating system now, such as planning where pipes will need to run through, he expects it will be several years before they can do the main system.


A Quiet Place

McLaughlin believes that part of the rationale behind renovating Carnegie is because it is difficult for students to find places to study. Bird Library has silent reading and study spaces,  but it also has a gate count of 1.2 million people a year according to McLaughlin.

“We hear from students often that the space is occupied, that there isn’t room for them,” she said. “That iconic Reading Room in Carnegie that is made for quiet contemplative study, was so needed by the students right now.”

McLaughlin believes that once Carnegie is finished, it will become a destination. “It’s a beautiful building,” she said. 

“When I was standing on the third floor, next to the window, looking down on the reading room and across to the library, and just the way the way the lighting was, and the beautiful feeling in the room, it just struck me, that this is a place where people are going to want to be in if they are really needing to think, or work or study,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really wonderful.”


There is nothing more spectacular than being able to restore and old building to it's former grace.  As a contractor it is what I do

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.