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Grand restoration : Officials seek to restore Carnegie Library layout

The doors to Carnegie Library, once used as entrances and now sealed off, have tricked freshmen for generations. The doors will be restored to their original purpose during renovations to the building.

The Carnegie Library of today has lost the grandeur it held in March 1907.

The main entrance to the building has closed, classrooms have been built where the main lobby used to be and a glass wall has been built between the Reading Room and the stack room, keeping one of four hallways surrounding the Reading Room closed off.

‘Architecturally, it destroyed the intent of the building,’ Suzanne Thorin, dean of libraries and university librarian, said of the glass wall built on the south side of the Reading Room.

Minor changes throughout the years have shifted both Carnegie’s purpose and interior design. Originally meant to be Syracuse University’s finest and most conveniently equipped library, Carnegie now serves as home to the math department and the Science and Technology Library.

Carnegie’s history traces back to 1905, when tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie agreed to donate $150,000 for the construction of the library. He agreed under terms that the university would raise the same amount of money to upkeep the building, said Mary O’Brien, reference archivist of SU Archives.

The building officially opened in 1907 after the Leopold von Ranke collection was moved from the Von Ranke Library, now known as the Tolley Building, to Carnegie, O’Brien said.

At the time, the main entrance to the building was open and led into a lobby. In 1934, a statue of Diana the Huntress — currently located on the second floor of E.S. Bird Library — was donated to the university and placed in the Carnegie lobby. Students used to rub Diana’s dog’s paw for good luck before exams, O’Brien said.

Beyond the lobby was the Reading Room, the main room of the building. At the south side of the Reading Room were the stacks, which extended from the basement to ceiling. Originally, all four sides of the Reading Room had open hallways to walk through. But a glass wall was built on the south side of the room, preventing students and faculty from walking around the entire outer area like they used to, Thorin said.

Aspects of the building’s grandeur have been lost due to these changes. But the Office of Campus Planning, Design and Construction, the Provost’s Office, the E.S. Bird Library and those who use Carnegie have been collaborating to renovate the building. Summer 2011 marked the beginning of the project.

‘We’re trying to restore the original intent of the Reading Room,’ Thorin said.

Last September, university officials announced plans to restructure Carnegie’s Reading Room and make the building handicap accessible.

The most significant change the Reading Room is expected to endure is the removal of the two classrooms that occupy what used to be the main lobby. Vestibules are expected to replace the classrooms and the main entrance of the building will reopen. Diana the Huntress will also return to the vestibule.

There are also plans to break down the glass wall and move it back approximately five feet, said TC Carrier, director of program management. During the summer, the collections in the area behind the wall were removed and distributed throughout the stacks. Print documents that have electronic counterparts are also being converted.

Smaller changes include renovating the windows above the Reading Room to make the arches clear; exchanging the current lamps with individual lamps identical to those from before 1954; renovating floors of the third floor; adding power for laptops; and refurbishing tables and chairs, which will be more comfortable but remain historical.

With plans to reopen the main entrance of Carnegie, the math department is expected to move to the first floor. New spaces were created for the math department on the first floor during the summer, Carrier said. Renovations for the Reading Room cannot begin until both the collections and math department have been moved.

The building will also become handicap accessible by adding a handicap ramp to the side entrance of the building and adding an elevator, Carrier said.

‘We anticipate making the Library more available and accessible to users, with the Reading Room being an improved environment for student and faculty work,’ Eric Beattie, director of SU’s Office of Campus Planning, Design and Construction, said in an email.

The renovations for Carnegie are expected to take about four to five years, Beattie said. Funding for the project will come from the university’s capital projects budget, which is used for major renovations or construction. Carrier said the original budget was $600,000 per year for the first three years of the project.

When discussions regarding the renovation project began, four plans were proposed. Two plans proposed designating the full building to either the library or the math department. But it was decided that the building would continue to be used for both the library and math department.

‘The exact mix is still a moving target, but the renovations to the front entrance, Reading Room and accessibility improvements are certain, and that is why we are moving ahead with the work,’ Beattie said.

Even though the project began during the summer, it hasn’t gone as far as expected, Thorin said.

‘We thought that we would see more this summer, but it went slower than we thought,’ she said.

Although there is still some confusion regarding the final plans for library and math space throughout the building, there is a plan in terms of goals and steps to take.

‘I think it’s a plan that’s unfolding,’ Thorin said. ‘What we know from the library is that we will have a restored Reading Room, and it will be a place for the students to study.’

When Eugene Poletsky, chair of the math department, found out about the renovations Carnegie would undergo, he was skeptical. And he is still skeptical a full year later.

A couple of times, there were detailed plans to move the department into its own building, Poletsky said. But nothing happened. In the 1990s, the department was supposed to move into Hinds Hall, but the School of Information Studies occupied the space instead, he said.

Of the four proposed plans, Poletsky said the third plan, which would give the whole first floor to the math department and split the second floor between the library and other departments, including math, would be OK with him.

His main concern is that the math department remains in Carnegie, for it is the largest department on campus, with 8,500 students studying math per year, he said.

‘It’s a gorgeous place, it would be really nice,’ he said. ‘But the problem is that if they want to open the door, they have to destroy two classrooms, they have to destroy our office floor, and they have to destroy our storage room.’

Poletsky said he sees a small positive side to moving the math department downstairs. Although the math department will lose classrooms upstairs, it will gain more classrooms downstairs.

After lobbying for nearly seven years — since she began working at SU — Thorin said plans to renovate Carnegie and create more student space are finally coming through. Renovating Carnegie was something the university wanted to do, but plans never came to fruition.

Said Thorin: ‘Priorities change, money changes, so I just thought, ‘Let’s give it another try.”

lgleveil@syr.edu

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