“I think it’s going to be extremely exciting,” says George Cianciolo, the president of the Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation. “I think probably the majority of Chapel Hill citizens cannot fully appreciate what this new library–what a big difference it’s going to be.”
The new library was originally slated to open last month; that didn’t happen, but Cianciolo says the project is only slightly behind schedule: with renovations about 85-90 percent completed, the projected opening date is sometime in March, with a dedication ceremony sometime around April.
“It’s 130 percent larger, so it’s more than two times the size of the previous library,” says Cianciolo. “It has some spectacular architectural features, it has more parking, it has what’s being called an ‘art walk,’ (and) there’s almost four times the amount of meeting space–so it really is going to be a community gathering place, a place where people will meet one another.”
The $16 million expansion of the Chapel Hill library has been years in the making. In 2011, eight years after approving funds for a major renovation, town officials and residents held a long debate about the library’s future location, with many pushing for a permanent move to University Mall. In the end, though, the town elected to go ahead with the renovations at Pritchard Park—renovations that have taken a year and a half to complete.
In the meantime, the library relocated to University Mall on a temporary basis. Cianciolo calls that move a success: though the University Mall location is smaller, he says attendance never dropped, with about 1000 people a day visiting the temporary space.
That makes the Chapel Hill Public Library the most visited library per capita in North Carolina—and Cianciolo says he expects attendance to be even higher when the permanent location reopens.
“When libraries are renovated and reopened, the number of patrons going there usually increases by about 30-40 percent,” he says, citing statistics from other community libraries.
When it reopens, the Pritchard Park site will have a new children’s section as well as an area designated for teens—which Cianciolo says might meet some of the need that’s led some residents to call for a teen center in Chapel Hill.
In addition to that, Cianciolo says library patrons will also have a chance not only to check books out, but to buy them as well.
“The Friends of the Library, which sponsor regular book sales, are actually going to have a bookstore within the library now,” he says. “They’ll not only sell used books, but will sell some new books as well.”
All in all, 2013 will mark a significant year in the history of the Chapel Hill Public Library: not only is the new building opening its doors, the library will also have a new director for the first time in more than three decades, after the resignation of longtime director Kathleen Thompson. The identity of that new director is still undetermined: town manager Roger Stancil re-launched the search at the beginning of December, after an initial search came up empty.
Regardless of whom the next director should be, though, Cianciolo says the reopening of the library will be a major event on the town’s calendar in the coming year.
“I think it’s certainly going to be a building, and a resource, that’s going to do Chapel Hill proud,” he says.
The Chapel Hill Public Library first moved into the Pritchard Park location in 1994.