Northeast Library Renovation

Northeast Library Renovation

Compilation of Community Feedback

Updated April 23, 2012

1. Why can’t the attic space be captured to create additional space in the building?

The cost of creating usable space within the existing attic would be significantly more costly than renovating the other floors of the building. The attic would require
• two sets of stairs
• an addition to accommodate the building’s elevator (requiring a taller elevator shaft that would penetrate the historic roofline)
• reconfiguration of structural elements that currently intersect in the space
• installation of a new floor (currently, only catwalks exist)
Our general contractor estimates the cost per square foot would be 30% higher than the cost to renovate the existing floors.

2. Why is the library proposing to move the children’s room to the first floor?
There are several considerations for putting the children’s room on the first floor. The space more closely matches the ideal square footage for the children’s area. Second, it allows the Teen Space to be adjacent to the Adult Reading Room, which is common practice. This allows the teens to have easy access to the adult collection. It also separates teens from children, which is generally preferred both by the teens, and often the parents of younger children. It also allows customers with strollers to avoid having to use the elevator.

3. Please do not destroy all the old wood in this building – the rounded arches are a lost art.

The “historic fabric” of the interior will be retained and restored as much as possible, including the rounded arches.  The renovated library will keep its historic feel, with restoration of the original dark wood trim and new trim to match it as necessary.

4. Why does the library need two conference rooms?  Wouldn’t the space used by the second conference room on the mezzanine be better used for library collections?

Conference and meeting spaces in our libraries meet a remarkably high demand both for library programs and community events.  The Library offers some of the only free meeting space in the city, and these spaces are heavily used.  In this case, using the mezzanine as a conference room also works well from a staffing perspective, as the space would require an additional person to staff.
Will the entire children's room be carpeted to keep down noise levels?  If not, what fraction of the space will have rugs?
Floor finishes will be selected later in the design process after final locations have been determined and the design is further developed.  Carpet is a possibility; other finish options may be considered to manage acoustics.

5. Will the style of the new circulation desk and information desk be made to match the style in the old photos of Northeast? 

The style of the service desks will be explored later in the design process, and will likely relate to the historic millwork.

6. Will all of the light fixtures in the circulation areas and reading rooms on the first and second floor be period reproductions (as in the Georgetown library) or will there be a mix of period and modern fixtures (as in the Petworth Library)?

The exact light fixtures will be explored later in the design process. Aesthetics, proper lighting of spaces, energy efficiency and ease of maintenance will be high priorities. 

7. Which pieces, if any, of the existing historical furniture be restored?  Will the new furniture be made to match?  Will the new furniture match that in the old photos of Northeast?

Currently, there are very few pieces of original furniture left at the Northeast Library.  Those will likely be restored and incorporated into the design.  Once the furniture plans are further developed, the designers will determine what types and sizes of new furniture are necessary.  It is possible that new furniture in the adult areas would stylistically match the original furniture, as it does at the Georgetown and Petworth Libraries.

8. How much shelf space (in square feet or linear feet) is currently available in Northeast, and how much there be after the renovation?

Once the design is further developed we will have a better idea of the exact linear footage comparison.  We do know, however, that there will be increased space for both the children and adult collections.

9. The plans call for removing the stairway to the mezzanine – will that woodwork be reused in Northeast or removed?

It is possible some of the woodwork could be reused or salvaged.

10. Will the marble from the existing staircase to the 2nd floor be reused in Northeast or removed?

The marble will be reused or salvaged.

11. Will the existing period reproduction lighting fixtures over the circulation desk be reused or removed?

The reproduction lights currently over the circulation desk were installed several years ago as a gift from the Friends of the Northeast Library and greatly improved the appearance of that space.  While it is possible that these fixtures may be reused, the lighting designer must ensure that

   • optimal light levels are achieved
   • the fixtures are easy for the Library to maintain, and
   • energy efficiency is optimized.

For ease of maintenance, the Library requires that the number of different light bulb types used in the building post-renovation be kept to a minimum (four types or less).  The Library must give the designer the greatest flexibility to select esthetically appropriate lighting that also meets these other requirements.

12. To the extent that the Library plans on removing and not reusing materials such as stairways, lighting fixtures, bookshelves, etc., is it willing to direct Whiting-Turner to work with a local organization such as Community Forklift ( to salvage and recycle useable material that is removed from the building, rather than landfilling it?

Recycling and salvage of unused materials from the project will be exercised wherever possible.

13. How many square feet of staff space will be dedicated to housing materials and supplies for the children's room (currently housed in the second floor office)?

The exact square footage for this purpose may change depending on the location of the children’s room (first vs. second floor).  Ideally, there should be 100-120SF of storage space and enough work space for three full-time employees dedicated to the children’s area.

14. The two bike racks in front of Northeast are insufficient, and bicyclists often have to lock up to trees, utility poles, the fence, etc.  Can DCPL put in additional bike racks?

Yes, additional bike racks will be installed as part of this project.

15. Will the Library keep the old black and white photos on the wall of Northeast from when it first opened?  What about the neighborhood association plaques for Neighbor of the Year? 

These items will be retained.  An appropriate place in the renovated space can be determined.

16. What will the process be for determining whether additional artwork will be added (e.g., old black and white photos of other Capitol Hill landmarks such as Union Station, Eastern Market, the Capitol, Supreme Court, etc)?

While the budget for this project does not include the acquisition of art, the Library has a process in place for reviewing and receiving potential art donations.  For more information on donating art, feel free to use the contact form on the Library's website.

17. The Friends will store donated books in the room in the basement, but the public will not have access to that room.  Where exactly will patrons be able to drop off book donations, which the Friends will then have to move to their storage room?

A potential location for receiving book donations has not yet been determined with the Friends.

18. What space will be available for a bookshelf on the first floor for the Friends to sell donated books on an ongoing basis?
While shelf space for public library materials is always at a premium, some space for this purpose can likely be found. At several other locations, friends groups use mobile book carts for book sales.

19. Which set of drawings are we working from?

As the design develops and additional input is received, updated designs will be created on a continuing basis.  Feel free to check the library’s website ( for information on the latest designs.

20. Are these drawings being offered as design plans or are other drawings being prepared?

Designs will be further developed once a final determination is made regarding the location of the adult and children’s libraries.

21. Southwest corner contains notation “planting area.”  Please explain what this means.

This is in response to request from the ANC6C to create green space in this location.

22. Southwest corner references a “walk” accessible from alley.  Please explain.

This walk is necessary to provide required emergency egress from the Lower Level.

23. The east side of the building references a single entrance.  Will the current front door be blocked or accessible for emergency purposes?

The current main entrance will remain and be used for emergency egress only.

24. Does the drawing assume a single roof leak or is the repair more inclusive?

A comprehensive assessment of the roof will be completed, with necessary repairs made during the renovation.

25. What are RTU’s [as noted on the roof?]  Are they situated on the roof?

Those are rooftop mechanical units.  The flat roof of the addition is a potential location for the new air conditioning equipment for the building.  This roof is significantly lower than the pitched roof of the historic building, and would be surrounded by screening to block the view of the units.  The new equipment will also be much quieter and have less visual impact than the current unit that sits on top of the garage.

26. Are the southwest stairs intended for public usage or limited to staff?

The new southwest stairs will be for emergency egress only and will be required to meet current building codes.

27. What is the design of the conference room east wall?  Is it open, partially glassed, etc.?

The design has not yet been developed to this level of detail, but the appearance of the historic millwork from the area below will be preserved as much as possible.

28. What is the design of the “low wall (new opening)”.   What type of connective wall is contemplated from the wall of the east conference room?

The design has not yet been developed to this level of detail.

29. What happened to the alternative plan of putting children’s room on second floor?

Both options are being considered and are posted for public review at  Both options were not included in the concept submissions to the Historic Preservation Review Board because the Board does not review these functions.  The Library hopes to receive enough input at the April 23 presentation to finalize the location of the children’s room.

30. The alternate design places the children’s bathroom directly over the front door.  Do you really want to extend the plumbing all the way to the east side of the building?

New plumbing must be installed throughout the building as part of this renovation.  That gives us an opportunity to place restrooms where they will function best in the plan, as was done at the Georgetown and Petworth Libraries.

31. Would full-time staff be dedicated to the second floor?


32. Are southwest stairs accessible to public?

The new southwest stairs will be for emergency egress only and will be required to meet current building codes.

33. Many of the existing shelves are being eliminated.  What are the plans for free-standing shelves?

As many of the original perimeter shelves will be retained and restored as possible.  Some free-standing shelves will likely also be necessary.  The location and quantities of these will be determined once the design can be further developed. There will be a net increase of shelf space in the renovated library.

34. Will three sets of stairs open to the exterior?  Will they be locked on or on emergency switches?

The current plans contain two sets of stairs.  Both will allow egress from the building, however, at any location other than the main entrances, the egress points will be locked to prevent unauthorized entry.

35. What is the composition of the west wall of the addition (containing the stairs)?

The current design shows the west wall of the addition as brick to closely relate to the historic building.

36. Are the [new main] stairs indoors or outdoors?

The new main stairs will be inside the rear addition.

37. What is the composition of the north and south walls of the addition?

The current design shows the north and south walls of the addition as mostly glass. The goal is to create an open, transparent and welcoming entry experience at this location.  Options for the glass treatment of the north and south walls are posted at with an opportunity for comments.  These options will also be presented at the April 23 meeting.

38. What is the interaction with the walk and planting area to the south of the building?

The planting area is in response to request from the ANC6C to create green space in this location and the walk is necessary to provide required emergency egress from the Lower Level.  The details of both will be further developed in the near future.

39. Do the plans continue to permit a single parking place in the basement?

No, the existing garage is no longer needed by the Library and will become the lower portion of the main staircase for the building.

Additional Comments

-I am a resident of Capitol Hill (21 years) who has used the NE library in various capacities during that time. I am also a parent of two young kids who use the NE library regularly. I attended my first interior planning meeting the other night and saw the two options drawn up for the interior renovation. I wanted to pass along my thoughts, for what it's worth. I apologize in advance if any of this covers ground that was already covered in earlier meetings.

I personally do not think the design of the library was stellar to begin with. But there are some things I love about the library that I hope would be retained in any renovation. One of those things is the entry point for users, the lobby room with the circulation desk. I love it because it is so unusual--most libraries have nothing like a lobby, much less a lobby that looks like it did when new 80 years ago. It feels both grand and unique--maybe not good for flow, but a clear demarcator of space as well as a time capsule. When you walk into that space, you really are entering a world from 80 years ago, and it's neither outdated nor irrelevant. More importantly, you are clearly at a grand entry point that sets the tone stylistically for all the other rooms.

This feeling is rarely evoked by current public buildings--indeed, someone commenting on the old Penn Station in New York versus the current one noted that in the old one, you entered like a god, because of the soaring entry spaces. But in the current Penn Station, this person noted, you enter like a rat, because of the low ceilings and the fact that there is no central, grand entryway but just open space after open space. I know of few new public buildings in DC where you enter "like a god"--or at least like a valued citizen! However, I know lots of newer DC buildings where you do enter into spaces that, while they may strive to maximize light and openness, it's at the expense of grandeur and a clearly demarcated entryway. It's like they took their design cues from the average Wal-Mart or big box store--they're light and open too, and about as grand and memorable as a shoe box.

I noticed on the current plans that this lobby area, despite being labeled as a restoration zone, would be largely altered so that it would no longer be a discrete room, but simply part of a larger space. I totally get the need to get a different flow through the library than is currently there, but I wonder if there was any attempt in the planning to retain that lobby room closer to its current format, at least where it is not under the mezzanine. I worry that not only are we losing something lovely, but that the retention of the woodwork and decorative openings will now just look weird because they will no longer have the context of the room that they currently have. As it is, given the prime concern of many to retain as much of the historic look as possible, it seems that retaining the look of this room would be key to that goal. To me, losing that would be really a shame and something I think a good design would strive to avoid.

I did like the new staircase on the outside and new elevator--and I loved the fact that there will be publicly usable space in the basement. But I worry that both of these will mean we users are hugging a fellow neighbor's house wall whenever we use that new entryway, because the ramp is literally on that house wall (I don't know those homeowners, but cannot imagine how I'd feel if this was done to my house). I think I see why the ramp hugs the wall--light can then flow into the window wells for the basement conference room.

But this suggests to me that this is an awkward situation of the sort that any redesign should eliminate, not create. As part of that, it became apparent at the meeting that there was not much thought (yet) about what has been designed as a terraced area on the southwest, in front of the new stairwell addition. Having lived here as long as I have, I can assure you that the design I saw could easily become a staging ground for any variety of things that have nothing to do with the library and everything to do with making that area really ugly. I think this area needs a lot more thought--both in terms of access from the library (for trash, among other things) as well as access to the library (security, trash pooling, people sleeping, etc.). Merely having grass terraces is not enough--this needs a lot more thought and consideration--and given how tight our public spaces are anyway, why would this be left to stand alone anyway, apparently beyond further thought or connection to the building?

Finally, I have no idea what the staff or public input thus far has been, but I think that the study rooms are a huge mistake. Unless the glass that forms their outer walls is clear, they will block needed light. More importantly, however, I believe that a significant part of the library's adult population is homeless people. Having small rooms where one person with no other private space can hole up for hours in a facility that will *never* have an overpopulation of janitors and other staff resources seems to me a very short-sighted design. Is there an overwhelming push for quiet in the library, such that these rooms need to be constructed? It seems completely out of touch with the reality of the library's users--but perhaps this was something everyone desperately wanted?

-This is the second or third time I have looked at the library renovation plans on-line.
  1. My first suggestion is to please LABEL the front entrance on Plans A & B. The designations “renovation zone”, etc are not especially useful to someone who is more concerned with usability. I trust that it will make good design sense to preserve whatever historical features that can be preserved. What I need to understand the plans are more CLEAR LABELS, showing new entrances, and integrating the inside with the outside;
  2. I think overall it makes sense to locate the children’s books on the first floor. It is a nightmare with strollers to navigate. That said, it is the current configuration that makes is so stressful to try to navigate with a stroller. If the elevator access is improved, made less claustrophobic, perhaps it might be the same. It is nice to have the kids off to their own space, BUT, I question the assumption implicit in some of the Pros/Cons. Parents like to have the kids isolated on the 2nd floor so they can browse the adult books on the first floor?? I wish!! I am a parent of a 6 and 8 year old and don’t even feel like I am allowed to leave them alone on the 2nd floor, not even do something minor…like visit the restroom!! Are you seriously considering designing a space based on a presumption that it is okay to leave children alone in the library, even if you are in the library? I do not believe that library staff are paid enough to be babysitting for me!!
  3. Once these plans are better labeled, I can provide better feedback.
Thank you. I hope to continue to be involved in this process.

-If the adult reading area must be moved to the 2nd floor, please ensure that the elevator(s) installed are fast, efficient and modern, not like the ones we've suffered with for so long at MLK.  Please do not "update" the NE book collection to the extent that it was done at the SE Library where the collection was decimated and has never recovered.

-I prefer the plan with the children's area on the Main level. I hope the child bathroom will also provide good diaper changing facilities.  I am concerned with turning the mezzanine into a conference room. Isn't there also going to be one in the basement? Why does the library need two? I would prefer more space was spent on shelves of actual reading material. Which brings me to a related point, do you know why there seem to be so few books on the shelves? How do we change that? Some of the shelves are half empty.

-First, it's great that all the repairs and upgrades are being scheduled, so congratulations on your input into that process. It's truly nice to have this neighborhood institution in reach.

I do have some additional thoughts on the interior plans and options.
  1. I feel strongly that the adult reading rooms should remain on the first floor. I thus favor Plan B. We are the primary clientele of the library and the appeal of using the library would diminish greatly if you consigned us to the upstairs. What's the point?  The extra trip upstairs would be a strong disincentive to use this library for any reason. I have bad knees and I'm not alone in this.
  2. I'm looking at Plan B on my computer and confess that I don't understand the proposals in their entirety (the drafts are missing street names or a compass for guidance). Are the architects proposing to do away with the bathrooms on the first floor? It appears so. That would be objectionable, since it is the most high traffic area in the building. Is the firm also eliminating the southeast corner (large) reading room on the first floor? Again, that seems really objectionable, since it's the nicest of all the reading rooms.
  3. It's great if the back ramp can be improved, but elimination of the 7th St. entrance (front of the building) will make people less inclined to visit or wander into the building, particularly first-time users. Not a great idea.  But perhaps I misunderstood.
  4. Has the staff been consulted about placement of the circ desk? The current location gets some daylight (more humane), but pushing it into the back/middle would cut into that drastically.
-As context, I am the property owner directly behind the library at 663 Maryland Ave NE and, as a result I share the property line with the library. While I applaud the efforts to keep the library in good repair, I do have some concerns about the design of the project which are, perhaps, unique to my situation.
  1. First, the design of the building will result in the extension of the ramp to rear door of the library, and the planned ramp will be built directly on the shared property line.  This will result in library traffic advancing ten feet further along our property line than is currently the case.  There is already a problem with patrons trespassing into our back yard, knocking on windows, attempting to open doors, and, in some cases, defecating on my property.  The ramp near the rear door is also currently used as a gathering place for smoking and personal conversations during library operating hours, and the extension will provide more space for this type of activity.  Extending the ramp, I fear, will only exacerbate the problem.   I have attached two photographs depicting the area that will be affected by the ramp extension (photos 1 & 2).
  2. In addition, the design plan seems to indicate that the north-facing side of the new stairwell will contain significant amounts of glass.  These glass windows will look directly into the windows of our residence, impacting the privacy of the existing residence. I have attached 2 photographs that illustrate the privacy issues created by the stairwell windows (photos 3 & 4).
To address these concerns, the following changes to the design are necessary:
  1. To prevent the incursion of library patrons onto our property, a permanent barrier should be created along the property line extending from the back corner of our residential building structure to the newly constructed library stairwell. The barrier should be a brick wall so that is architecturally consistent with the library building and our residential structure.  It should be of sufficient height to prevent a person of normal stature from easily accessing our property from the ramp.  To accomplish this, the brick barrier must be a minimum of ten feet in height.
  2. The proposed windows on the north side of the newly constructed stairwell should be eliminated from the plan.
These changes, I believe are reasonable and represent the minimal course of action to ensure the quiet enjoyment of our residential property in the face of the significant expansion of your structure.  Please contact me if you would like to discuss further.

-I support the alternative plan that keeps the children’s room on the second floor.  This is safer for the children, does a better job of shielding the other library patrons from the noise and activity of the children’s room, and also makes life easier for the many older patrons who don’t have to climb the stairs or rely on the elevator.

-After seeing both floor plan options, I see many advantages to moving the children's room to the first floor. Most importantly, parents with strollers can go straight into the area without using the elevator. Also, being closer to the circulation desk is helpful. I like the idea of having a bathroom dedicated to the children's area too. I look forward to seeing the new library.