The old and the new collide after a renovation of one of Oklahoma City’s oldest public libraries.
The 59-year-old Belle Isle Library sits on the corner of Villa and Northwest Expressway, and is known by residents for its mid-century modern architecture – its circular design has led it to be called the “Millennium Falcon” by some. Its iconic flagstone facade is now joined by brightly glazed orange, green and turquoise bricks and a vast expanse of floor-to-ceiling windows on the southeast side.
After a nearly two-year renovation process, the library is ready to welcome visitors. The community is invited to celebrate the reopening starting with a ribbon cutting at 3:30 pm Friday and a weekend full of concerts, games and tours of the new amenities.
“Myself and my staff are about to have the biggest sigh of relief possible,” said Belle Isle branch manager George Tocco. “We’ve been working so hard, working under so many different conditions and having so many things happen.”
From August 2020 to the end of March, the library and its staff occupied a temporary location on Northwest Expressway.
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The new design for the library was undertaken by the ADG architectural firm, with the project headed by Steven Matthews, a longtime neighborhood resident.
Taking on the refresh of his local library was an honor, Matthews said, and brought a sense of connection to the project. It was also important to Matthews to honor the original design by architect Jack Mills.
“It really was not that easy to figure out what to do with this building,” Matthews said. “What I did learn was how well loved it is in our community. And we felt a lot of pressure to do the right thing. “
The $ 7.8 million project included an expansion of 12,000 square feet and was paid for by the Better Streets, Safer City bond package approved in 2017. A $ 950,000 donation also came from Gordon and LaVerne Taylor.
No shortage of new amenities at Belle Isle Library
Tocco, who became the library’s manager in October 2021, said the new Maker Space is a project he’s been pushing for in the Metropolitan Library System for about five years.
The room features a sewing machine, 3-D printer, a computer-controlled cutting machine and other creative technologies.
“I think people are going to so much enjoy it and love it and just have chances to try new things,” Tocco said.
The upgrades also include two meeting rooms that can hold 100 people each, paid for by the Taylors’ donation. The community can reserve the rooms for public events for $ 10.
There are five new study rooms, a new children’s library, a teen area and a programming room. The study rooms and children’s library feature sound-absorbing “acoustic clouds” that hang from the ceiling.
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Brand-new computers and furniture complete the library’s modernization.
Tocco said he wants the library to be a dynamic place where the community can do more than check out books.
“Everything we do is based on community needs,” Tocco said. “From the downstairs adult changing room, all the way up to the sewing machine in the maker space. These are things that people have asked for. And if we’re not listening to our community, we’re not doing our job correctly. “
Preserving memories through preserving original architecture
Matthews said he heard from many people during the design and build process for whom Belle Isle Library holds special memories.
The library was first built, opening in 1963, to be more accessible for folks who did not want to go to the downtown branch. Even as more branches were added to the Metro system, Belle Isle remained a favorite for many.
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Preserving much of the library’s architectural feel was important to preserve the memories people held there.
“This holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts,” Matthews said. “And I hope when they come in the doors, they’ll be pleased with what we’ve done.”
The circular building has 17 sections, Matthews said, and the design throughout intentionally draws visitors back to the center.
On the southeast side, visitors will walk past where the building originally ended – marked by parts of the original flagstone outer wall still being in place – and will find themselves on what Matthews calls the “living edge.”
Natural light is abundant through the floor-to-ceiling windows, lined by high-back turquoise chairs.
“Libraries can be very dark places, (with the) idea that we are a place for books and books only,” Tocco said. “But now it’s more of a community place, and that’s where I really feel like everything came together. warm, it’s inviting, we want you to sit down, have a cup of coffee, read a book, stay a while. “
The library will be open from 4 to 6 pm Friday after the 3:30 pm ribbon cutting.
After that, it will retain the hours of 9 am to 9 pm Monday through Thursday, 9 am to 6 pm Friday, 9 am to 5 pm Saturday and 1 pm to 6 pm Sunday.