Housing Complex

Construction Tour: Bibliophile’s Palace Coming Together in Georgetown

A front door. All doorframes are peeled and painted by hand.

A front door. All doorframes are peeled and painted by hand.

While the Mt. Pleasant Library is still getting off the ground, DCPL’s other big historic renovation going on right now—the Georgetown Library—is proceeding apace, on track to finish this fall. Last week, Housing Complex took a tour.

The first thing to note about this renovation is that it’s creating a lot more space. The old library, which was devastated by a fire in 2007, had only 16,000 square feet available to the public. To expand that, architects Martinez & Johnson opened up the bottom floor and more space on the third floor, bringing the total up to a whopping 26,880 square feet. There used to be 3.5 “great rooms” for reading; the new library will have seven. They reclaimed a reading terrace on the building’s southern exposure, leading right into Book Hill Park. And they’re doing all that on a budget of $21 million, with no external additions—something that DCPL project manager Chris Wright said was important in this particular community.

“Doing that in Georgetown is key, because if we had to get approved for any sort of addition, it would have been a challenge,” Wright noted.

The bottom floor—which planners are loathe to call a “basement”—will house the children’s and young adults collections, as well as a large public meeting room with its own kitchenette. To create that much space, the builders had to excavate down into the foundation, running into some of the original drainage tunnels from when the site was a reservoir. To help keep it light and open, a monumental staircase leads up to the main floor, and the children’s space opens onto a terrace sloping up to the park.

While a lot of the original plaster will be replaced with drywall, the architects have taken pains to preserve much of the original materials. The woodwork and shelving was saved and will be restored, the roof has been redone in Spanish slate, and the windows will have an historic quality (which means they can’t be double-paned, something that makes it harder to achieve the LEED Silver standard the building is also going for). The Peabody collection, which by covenant must be housed at the Georgetown library, will have its own climate-controlled space on the third floor.

If anything, the architects might have gone a little overboard on the historic preservation: They’re not only keeping the old fireplaces, but adding a “faux fireplace” on the second floor. Just to remind you where you are.

The south face of the library, from the reading terrace.

The south face of the library, from the reading terrace.

The attick, which will house the Peabody collection.

The attick, which will house the Peabody collection.

Looking through the main floor.

Looking through the main floor.

The airy second floor, which will have glass study alcoves and a view of Rosslyn.

The airy second floor, which will have glass study alcoves and a view of Rosslyn.

  • Sue Woehr

    Hmpf, except for the crazies in Mt. Pleasant, our library would have been too.

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  • http://allthingswashdc.com Wylder Brothers Realty Team

    Great progress. Can't wait to see the end result. Will be a phenomenal addition to an already beautiful neighborhood.

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