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Jefferson Library Branch opens with new improvements and quiet rooms 

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY

Saturday, October 15, 2022; Grand Opening of the reimagined Jefferson Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, 850 Jefferson Avenue: Community members gather for the reopening ceremony.

by Bruce Checefsky

              (Plain Press, November 2022) A ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 15 marked the opening of the Cleveland Public Library’s Jefferson Branch. An area for children and a teen nook, a laptop bar, two new meeting rooms, and book lockers for after-hours access to materials were just a few of the new improvements to the building.

     Wanix Architects + Williams Architects Collaborative worked with Barber + Hoffman, Karpinski Engineering, and R-Engineering, to keep the historic Carnegie Library features while expanding capacity and adding a side entrance from the parking lot. Wanix Architects was founded in 2008 in Cleveland by Xin Wanwe and provides urban planning, neighborhood enhancement planning, architectural design, and interior services that enhance and transform communities. Williams Architect, established in 1974 and reorganized in 1994, is a recognized leader in professional architectural design with headquarters in Itasca, IL.

     Nan Weir, an architect from Williams Architects and principal designer for the project, said the Jefferson Branch was a Carnegie conversion meant to keep the original features intact while creating a second entrance consistent with the main design of the building.

     “We were respectful of the historical character of the original building while adding an addition to enhance the library experience,” said Weir. “Scale and detailing are similar. We opened-up the space. All interior furniture is on casters to create a flexible environment.”

     Jefferson Branch is one of the most utilized libraries in the city, especially by after-school groups, she added. Social zoning and laptop bars with enhanced Wi-fi service are available, and a laptop lending program is underway. Senior groups can reserve the study room by signing up.

     “More than 60 children use the library every day after school,” said Weir.

     Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built 2,509 Carnegie libraries between 1883 and 1929, including the Jefferson Branch, built-in 1918. Cleveland architect and artist Ora Coltman worked for Cleveland Public Library as a supervising architect and building inspector who oversaw the construction of three branch libraries, including Jefferson. Coltman moved to Cleveland to study law in the 1880s but abandoned that career to become an artist. He took classes at the Cleveland School of Art (The Cleveland Institute of Art) and studied with William Merrit Chase at the Art Students League in New York City. The 6,900-square-foot branch was last updated in 1981.

     A Cleveland Public Library Facilities Master Plan, a 10-year, $100 million plan released in 2019, identified Jefferson, Walz, Lorain Carnegie, Eastman, and Brooklyn branches in Group 1A. The plan will eventually renew all 27 library branches, followed by a $65 million renovation of the Main Library downtown.

     Voters backed the branch work in 2017 by a 69% margin with a tax increase of 2 mills, costing $35 per year for a $50,000 home. Other funding comes from grants, fines and fees, and investments. With over 800,000 visitors a year, CPL circulates one of the most extensive collections in the country, with close to ten million items.

     Tremont resident Eric Hooper started going to the Jefferson Branch in 1966. Hooper owns the oldest urban farm in Cleveland. His acre of land in Tremont has been active for over 38 years. The library was a haven for kids and minorities, a place to keep them off the streets. It opened his eyes to other possibilities and people in the world and inspired him to attend college and further his education.

     “When we talk about education in America, it starts with the public libraries,” said Hooper. “The library sparks the imagination, as it did mine, and gives kids a chance to chase their curiosity.”

     Hooper provides local and healthy sustainable food to area restaurants and options at events such as Hessler Street Fair and Case Western Food Justice Conference. He also cooks for City of Cleveland events and professional athletes and musicians. 

     Steve Capuozzo, manager of the Jefferson Branch, said he was glad to be back in the neighborhood. With new improvements, the community is excited to dig in. The addition of quiet study rooms will impact library users.

     “I’m happy to be back in Tremont,” said Capuozzo. “The Grab and Go Book Lockers are a big improvement, especially for people working second shift unable to get to the library.”

     The Grab and Go Book Locker system can store materials with 24-7 access in the lobby using a library card. The feature allows people to order books and safely store materials until they can pick them up later.

     “Whenever you walk into a public library on any given day, you see a snapshot of the city,” said Tana Peckham, Chief Strategy Officer Cleveland Public Library. “Giving our neighborhoods new spaces is super important.”

     Peckham said the renovation process has been challenging, like most facilities projects, but figuring out solutions to the problems has been overwhelmingly successful. With talented library staff and partners in the mix, working together and reaching out to the community, the renovations make the library more useful for what people need now but also flexible enough to grow with the neighborhoods as they change. The 10-year plan is on schedule. 

     “As far as technology improvements, digital equity will be with us for a while,” she added. “We added flexibility to make room for children and adults to reconfigure the space as needed.”

     Some branches need renovation while others will be rebuilt depending on needs. The Detroit Avenue and West 79th Street Branch will replace the 55-year-old Walz Branch with a two-story, 10,300-square-foot supplemented by a five-story, 51-unit senior living facility attached behind and above the library called Karam Senior Living. Eligible residents must be at least 55 years old and make 60% or less of the area median income to quality, which for a single person is $31,920 or less.

     A new Martin Luther King Jr branch is part of the 11-story Library Lofts apartment building, marking only the second time the library will include apartments in the same development as a new branch. Memorial-Nottingham, Rockport, and Mount Pleasant branches will be finished in a few years, while Sterling and Lorain branches are expanded and Brooklyn and Eastman branches renovated. 

     “We are so excited about the Jefferson Branch opening,” said Executive Director and CEO of Cleveland Public Library Felton Thomas, Jr. while overlooking the crowd gathered under the event tent and near dozens of colorful balloons leading to the library entrance. It was a festive, celebratory moment.

     “Tremont is our first ribbon cutting tied to our facilities master plan. We could not have done it in a more wonderful neighborhood than here. Libraries and communities change, and we need to grow with the community. We listened to what they wanted. We held onto a past but also transformed ourselves for the future.”  

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