A Look Inside: L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library Renovation

Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 8:29 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - “Wow! I think a lot of people are really wowed. For the people who knew what the library looked like before and how it functioned. They have a different appreciation. But I think it’s still wow for someone who’s coming through and has never seen the library in Eau Claire because it’s an amazing space,” says Library Deputy Director Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer.

The renovation of the nearly half-century old library is nearly complete. In two weeks, on September 26th the doors will open again for patrons to use the $18.5 million dollar project funded by the city of Eau Claire and private donations.

“So this is our new library, welcome to our new library. As you can see this first floor is going to be really busy, exciting, active place.”

Library Deputy Director Kimberly Hennings has been the official tour guide for those getting a sneak peek at the renovated library. When you first walk in you’ll immediately notice that it’s lighter and brighter and much more user-friendly.

“So one of the plans was to have lower shelving, and so it’s easier to access both the top and the bottom shelves so customers don’t have to do as much bending and reaching and also to have nice wide aisles so people can navigate through the spaces,” says Hennings.

Kids and families will enjoy a greatly expanded space, a larger event room and two “play and learn” areas.

“We know from our data usage that parents with young children and kids are the number one user of the library. So we wanted to make sure that the library was designed to be welcoming and family friendly,” explains Hennings.

As you venture up to the second floor, more surprises are in store that will provide easy access from one side of the library to the other.

“I think one of the biggest things the people will notice when they walk onto the second floor of the library is our new Headwaters Bridge. And not only is the bridge functional, allowing customers to navigate the second floor of the library much easier and get from one side of the library to the other,” adds Hennings. “It’s also very beautiful, and the design is actually intended to mimic the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. So it’s a really beautiful design, esthetic.”

Incredible river views along with a beautiful plaza area gives people the opportunity to read outside and take advantage of the library’s surroundings.

“So when this library was built in 1976, it was built to accommodate a third floor. So the plan always was that one day the library would have to expand and move up,” says Hennings.

The library’s new third floor includes a 200-seat, public-use event space, a dazzling new art gallery space and innovation lab.

“One of the first classes is going to be the science of pasta making. So this is just a really great space for kind of that smaller, more intimate classroom setting that people are looking for,” explains Hennings.

Some more cool amenities include an automated materials-return system, a lower-level drive-thru pickup window and a cost-saving geothermal heating and cooling system.

“It’s an old building and all of the systems needed to be replaced. So if you’re going to start from scratch, you might as well think about what is going to be the most eco-friendly option that will save on money and energy,” says Collins-Fuerbringer.

For Hennings and Collins-Fuerbringer, they both agree the plans for the renovated library are forward-thinking with an eye on the future.

“Technology is changing. things are changing at a very quick pace. So that was one of our goals was to have flexible spaces that aren’t used for ‘a’ thing.”

In just 17 months, the library has started over and transformed into the anchor of Eau Claire’s downtown revitalization.

“When I started at the library many years ago, there was not a lot happening downtown. But now you have the option of coming to the library, you can go to the farmer’s market, you can bank, you can live, you can shop, you can eat. So there’s a lot of things happening. For us to be in the center of that is a wonderful place for us to be. With all the activity and the growth happening around us, that gives us an opportunity to bring in new users of the library and that’s an exciting thing for us,” says Collins-Fuerbringer.