When Bank of America consolidated its downtown Kansas City offices in 1999, it left the city’s historic First National Bank building standing empty. But, the building at 10th St. and Baltimore Avenue did not remain abandoned for long.
In 2000, the Kansas City Public Library realized it needed a more efficient and upgraded means for library circulation in the heart of the city. The 10-branch system set out to find a new downtown location for its Central Library. “The previous facility had been built in the 1960s and was tired and inefficient and really couldn’t respond to changes that had occurred with the library and its mission,” explains project designer Todd Achelpohl, director of design and associate vice president of HNTB Architecture in Kansas City, MO.
The Central Library serves as the major resource library for the system, housing the major library departments. As a result, the library needed a large, versatile building; the vacant First National Bank facility fit the bill.
“The existing [bank] building didn’t lend itself to a host of other types of uses,” Achelpohl says. “The space configuration was somewhat odd. It just wasn’t conducive for office or residential use. It was a wonderful, old historical building that was missing a use.”
In an effort to help the tightly budgeted library procure a building, and to stimulate downtown redevelopment, Kansas City’s Downtown Council formed a limited liability corporation - DTC LLC - to purchase the building and renovate it to the library’s specifications and lease it back to the library. As a for-profit entity, DTC LLC could take advantage of historic tax credits available for historic renovation work and return the tax credits back to the project. “It would be hard to imagine the project would not be a success,” Achelpohl says. “It resides in a historic district, and is revitalizing a whole district in our city.”
According to John Foudray, vice president of development at MC Lioness Realty Group in Kansas City, MO, the project management, programming, and planning began in early 2001. After securing historical approvals, the construction team got to work in 2002. The library opened in Spring 2004.
“Anything you can encounter in a renovation project, we encountered,” Foudray says. “The project was complicated because it was financed through philanthropic donations and tax credits. We also went out and got a loan on the project during construction. Keeping all of those funding sources in line was a complex task.”
Construction was also complex. The library’s original structure was built in 1904 for a bank. It underwent significant expansion and renovation in 1925. Then, in 1961, further addition and renovation work was performed to house a university law school.
“The building consisted of three different eras of construction,” notes Mike Householder, senior vice president at general contractor JE Dunn Construction. “Each one had a different type of structural system. One was a cast-in-place concrete frame, one was steel encased in concrete, and one was a steel frame. Every time we would open something up, there was something new.”
The building was originally 4 stories with an underground parking garage. Today, it sits 5-stories high with a mechanical penthouse on top.
Structural soundness was a critical issue. Numerous book stacks, a fifth-floor addition, and a mechanical penthouse would create significantly greater loads. One of the first tasks was to modernize and increase the building’s structural load capacity. Achelpohl says designers took several different approaches.
“In some instances, it came down to sistering up the beams adjacent to the existing steel construction. In other instances, we used a series of studs and increased the capacity of the concrete floor slabs,” he says. “Because it really is three buildings from three different eras, we had to develop strategies based on the architecture of the building.”
Crews delicately handled demolition, protection, and restoration of the existing finishes. Work consisted of limited interior finishes, existing kitchens, two escalators, floor openings, wall openings and roof demolition for the fifth floor, and mechanical penthouse additions.
The former underground parking area now is fully enclosed and serves as the library’s lower three basement levels. These levels are dedicated to facility maintenance and staff needs and consist of locker rooms, conference rooms, offices, boiler and mechanical rooms, an audiovisual collection, microform, and maintenance facilities.
Despite its historic housing, the facility has a full backbone of technology found in any 21st-century library, Achelpohl says. “It was a particular challenge in the historical areas [of] how to route cabling and conduit in order to accommodate those technologies,” he notes. The new library design incorporated many of the existing finishes, including a historic handrail and guardrail; the teller windows; a vaulted ceiling with detailed plasterwork; chandeliers; marble flooring; woodwork; pillars; and a smooth, black marble exterior facade. One of the original bank vaults was fully refurbished and maintained as a film vault.
The main entrance to the library, on 10th St., serves as a welcome center for library guests. It houses a cafe and provides a significant space for art. Space on the mezzanine level has been dedicated to services for children and young adults. It features a colorful reading nook; polka-dot flooring; computer stations; and funky, vibrantly colored finishes.
The third-floor Reading Room provides a calm environment for patrons to enjoy a calm novel or conduct research. The walls are encased with dark, rich millwork and granite inlay. The floor is made from cork to provide sound protection. Skylights feed the area with natural light. Wireless Internet, private workstations, and close proximity to the reference book stacks make this area a modern reader’s paradise. More than 80 percent of the library’s collection is in open shelving, compared to only 50 percent in its previous location. The entire fourth floor houses the non-fiction collection, which holds hundreds of thousands titles.
Part of the newly added fifth floor is dedicated to the library’s rare book collection, which is restricted only to staff use. The Missouri Valley Room, which displays remnants of local history, and the new Helzberg Auditorium together round out this fifth-floor space.
Directly across the street to the west is a new 485-car garage for visitors. Its exterior treatment creates the illusion of a row of books, adding a touch of whimsy to the cityscape.
“Because this had been a bank for so long, people had a lot of emotional ties to this building,” Foudray says. “People would walk in and say, ‘I opened my first savings account here when I was 6 [years old] in 1930.’ There’s a strong emotional tie, and to come in and see it restored has been a satisfying experience for many people.”
Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.
The Modernization Team ■ General Contractor (entry submitter): JE Dunn Construction ■ Owner: DTC LLC ■ Tenant: Kansas City Public Library ■ Construction Manager: MC Lioness Realty Group ■ Architects: HNTB Architecture Inc. (main project); Gould Evans Goodman (youth area, cafv©, Missouri Valley Room); Conservation Design Forum (roof garden terrace); Atha Architecture (913 Baltimore elevator and lobby) ■ Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: Henderson Engineers ■ Structural Engineer: Bob D. Campbell & Co. ■ Design Consultants: Lerch, Bates & Associates Inc. (elevator consultants); Derek Porter Studio ■ Special Inspections: Terracon (concrete, steel, soil); Structural Engineering Associates (stair cursory review) ■ Products Used ■ Building Controls: Staefa ■ Ceilings: Decoustics; USG ■ Doors/Storefronts: Marshfield DoorSystems; Mid-America Metals; Overhead Door ■ Electrical/Electronics Distribution: Generac Power; General Electric; Progressive Electric; Wiremold ■ Elevators/Escalators: KONE ■ Exterior Cleaning/Repair: PROSOCO ■ Facade: Alply ■ Floorcoverings: Armstrong; Atlas; Bentley Prince Street; chilewich; Constantine; Expanko; Lees; Monterey; Patcraft; Tennessee Marble ■ Furniture: Noel Designs ■ Hardware: Dor-O-Matic; McKinney Products; Sargent; Schlage ■ HVAC: Double Check; Ferguson; GIVE Systems; Trane ■ Insulation: Johns Manville; WR Grace ■ Life Safety/Security: Integral Technologies; Notifier; Pelco; Tour Andover ■ Lighting: Columbia; Dual-Lite; Edison Price; Elco; Emergi-Lite; Fiberstars; Gardco; HE Williams; Lithonia; Prescolite; RSA; The Watt Stopper; Translite Sonoma; Winona ■ Other: Arch Aluminum and Glass; Circle Redmont; Draper; Spacesaver; York Metal Fabricators ■ Paint: ICI ■ Plumbing: Bobrick ■ Roofing: Carlisle Coatings & Waterproofing; Firestone; Oldcastle ■ Wallcoverings: Innovations in Wallcoverings; Novawall; Triarch Industries; WallTalkers ■ Windows/Glass: Kawneer; Oldcastle; Peerless Products; Sunglo Skylight
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