The Current Facility

The downtown Ann Arbor library serves more than 600,000 visitors, 75,000 internet sessions and 500 events per year. The downtown building, however, is no longer adequate to meet the needs of our community.

Originally constructed in 1958, renovated and expanded twice in 1974 and 1991, the facility reflects three different eras of construction, which produced a non-integrated, inefficient structure. The current downtown building is critically deficient in many fundamental areas: energy efficiency, accessibility, capacity, comfort and technology adaptability. As it currently stands, the downtown facility serves as a poor framework for a library trying to adapt with its community’s needs in the 21st century.

Below is an excerpt from a 2007 Feasibility Study by Cornerstone Design and O'Neal Construction detailing many of the deficiencies of the current downtown building. As part of the scope of work for the feasibility study, Cornerstone Design Inc, conducted an assessment of the physical integrity of the existing library structure. This assessment also addressed the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. In addition, the library planning consultants assessed the library functions and accessibility of the building based on current library standards and trends. Both assessments found the existing building to be deficient by today’s standards.



  • The structural design drawings for the 1991 addition to the building indicate design loads that do not allow for or support the addition of future loads to the structure. Therefore, it is not possible to expand the current facility by adding additional floors to the structure.
  • While the Administration and the Facilities Department of the Ann Arbor District Library have been excellent stewards of the current building, there are issues of general age related to MEP (mechanicals, electricity, plumbing), HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) and accessibility that cannot be addressed by relocating operations and services within the existing footprint, by replacing carpeting, painting surfaces, and adding shelving, etc.
  • The facilities assessment report highlighted the age of the sanitary sewer piping and the age and lack of parts for the four sump pumps associated with that piping and recommended that they be replaced. In fact, at the beginning of the week of June 4, 2007, one of the valves of one of the pumps failed due to age. The library was forced to close for a day and a half as the plumber had to fabricate a replacement valve because the part, due to age of the pump, was no longer available. There are three more pumps of the same age; any or all could fail at any time.
  • Lighting in the building is inefficient and inadequate (less than the standard 30 foot candles) throughout much of the building. Lighting systems have improved considerably in their energy efficiency and cost savings since the last addition to the Library was completed.
  • Air handling systems have exceeded their life expectancy. The systems are unbalanced and need to be redesigned and replaced in order to provide improved and more dependable cooling capacity, mix of fresh air, and proper humidity control.
  • The public and the staff/service elevators malfunction on a monthly basis and are likely candidates for replacement.


  • The building is not ADA compliant or “barrier free” for those persons with physical challenges. There is only one ADA compliant restroom for all four floors of the building and it is located in the Children’s Department. The public elevator empties into a vestibule on each floor with a stairwell directly opposite the elevator with no textural cues to prevent someone with visual impairments from falling down the stairwell.
  • The site does neither easily nor safely accommodate vehicular passenger drop off nor does it provide a drive-up book return. The current exterior book return is located on the north side of William Street. Customers park on the south side of William and dangerously “jay-walk” to get to the book return.
  • The exterior book return is located at the opposite end of the building from the circulation workroom requiring staff, several times each day, to traverse the width of the building to retrieve materials in the book return. This adds time to the process of receiving, checking in and getting returned materials back out on the shelves for customer access.
  • Cars dropping off customers in the front of the building risk being rear-ended as traffic is stopped going south on Fifth. Passengers who take taxi cabs may have to exit into traffic to get to the entrance.
  • The site does not allow for additional parking for library use.
  • The existing building, through expansion of the original building over the past 50 years is, in reality, three separate buildings (boxes) connected only by a central stair. As people walk into the building they have no sense of the breadth of collections, of the variety of services provided, or where to ask for guidance and assistance. No staffed service desks are readily visible upon entrance. There are no spaces, visual cues, or intuitive pathways that provide a common “heart” or “thread” that unifies the three separate spaces.
  • The last addition to the building in 1991 was completed prior to the major impact that information technologies and computers now have and will continue to have on library services, spaces and efficiencies.

Function and Service Spaces

While some of what is expected and needed by library customers can be accommodated by the reprogramming of existing spaces, there is not enough room in the footprint of the existing building, even with expansion on the current site, to provide for additional meeting rooms and an auditorium with after hours access, more public use computers, an expanded and better designed teen area, a café, retail space, increased display of collections, increased “living room” seating, etc. and still be able to provide the quantity of collections needed for the next twenty plus years.

Yes, there is constant discussion in communities about the need for a library by those who believe that computers will provide the access to all information including downloadable content in visual and audio formats; however, there is no proof in long term projections as to if or when this may occur.

All major downtown public libraries designed and constructed over the past 10 years have included additional space for what District residents have identified as important and needed features. However, the current Downtown Library does not and cannot provide, within the footprint of its current facility, for all of the following:

  • attention to and inclusion of natural light throughout the building
  • new collection formats
  • significant “people” spaces
  • comfortable seating throughout the building
  • a café
  • multiple meeting rooms
  • state-of-the-art public performance space
  • large numbers of public use Internet computers including express stations for short-term (15-minute) use
  • electronic classrooms where people of all ages can learn how to effectively use electronic resources and computer applications
  • special collections of community significance in unique and notable spaces
  • a teen area that is dynamic and engaging
  • children’s areas of increased size to accommodate a focus on emergent literacy (birth to five), interactive opportunities between parents and caregivers and their children, nooks and seating that encourage curling up with a good book, more computers for use by children ages pre-K through grade six, special features such as, kinetic elements, stroller parking, nursing rooms, etc.
  • adequately sized and dedicated youth program room immediately adjacent to the 
Children’s Department
  • adequate public parking (preferably at no charge)
  • drive-up book returns and a pick-up window for customer convenience
  • safe, convenient and easy entry into the building
  • public green space surrounding the building that creates an engaging indoor and outdoor presence for the Library.

The only possibilities for expanding the current building on its present site are to 1) push the western front of the building out beyond the current porch/entry area and 2) eliminate and enclose the garden space on the William Street side. In essence, it accomplishes nothing more that replacing one of the independent boxes with another larger one to provide the auditorium and adding a small amount of square footage from the garden.

One may question why the building can’t be expanded to the east. Expansion to the east would eliminate the service drive which is used for shipping, receiving and distribution for tractor trailers delivering materials and supplies, for the inter-system courier services among the District branches and other libraries in the region, and for District maintenance services deployed from the Downtown facility. 

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