Sani­bel Pub­lic Li­brary: Reimag­ined

A re­struc­tured in­te­rior brings an is­land trea­sure up to date

Gulf & Main - - Contents - BY BAR­BARA LINSTROM

It’s al­ready ranked No. 1 of 55 things to do on Sani­bel Is­land on Trip Ad­vi­sor. And, most of those gush­ing re­views were writ­ten dur­ing an ex­ten­sive $5.8 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion over the past cou­ple of years when only part of the col­lec­tion and space has been avail­able for use.

With more than 140,000 vis­its per year and us­age rates that con­sis­tently rank it at or near the top of all li­braries in the state of Florida, is­landers and vis­i­tors alike trea­sure the Sani­bel Pub­lic Li­brary as a vi­tal com­mu­nity as­set.

The ren­o­va­tion project, which is slated to be com­pleted by the end of fall 2018, prom­ises to make the li­brary even more popular and val­ued in some new ways.

Fol­low­ing a re­quest for pro­pos­als sent out in 2015, the li­brary’s board of com­mis­sion­ers in­ter­viewed ar­chi­tec­tural firms from Fort My­ers, Sara­sota and Cleve­land, Ohio.

“We de­cided to go with HBM Ar­chi­tects out of Cleve­land based on their prior work spe­cial­iz­ing in li­braries,” says Mar­garet Mo­hun­dro, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor since 2007. “They’d been through this process be­fore with many com­mu­ni­ties around the coun­try.”

Hav­ing worked on as many as 400 li­brary projects, in­clud­ing new builds as well as re­designs, HBM brought a na­tional level of ex­per­tise and a lot of pos­si­bil­i­ties to the ta­ble.

“The Sani­bel li­brary has been a re­ally good part­ner,” says Kevin Kennedy, prin­ci­pal architect at HBM. “The pa­trons love their li­brary and were para­mount in the process.”

The ini­tial phase of the ren­o­va­tion project, dubbed “Your Li­brary Reimag­ined,” di­rectly in­vited com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, re­flect­ing a key con­cept in 21st cen­tury li­braries. “Mod­ern li­braries are much more than just a place for books,” says Kennedy. “Li­braries are re­ally more about places for peo­ple to in­ter­act and col­lab­o­rate.”

In keep­ing with the is­land tra­di­tion, which is best un­der­stood by the suc­cess­ful ef­fort of res­i­dents in the early 1970s to in­cor­po­rate the is­land as a city, staving off ram­pant de­vel­op­ment by Lee County, the com­mu­nity stepped right up with in­ter­ac­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“We had a few hun­dred com­mu­nity mem­bers at­tend the ‘mind-break­ing’ ses­sions that the ar­chi­tec­ture firm hosted, where they en­cour­aged us to think out­side of the tra­di­tional li­brary,” says Mo­hun­dro. “We got a lot of good feed­back and a lot of good ideas.”

From that in­put, HBM learned that the pa­trons highly val­ued the li­brary's au­thor series, in which the li­brary brings high-cal­iber, best-sell­ing au­thors to do read­ings and meet pa­trons. Past guests of the series in­clude such notable tal­ent as Joyce Carol Oates, Sue Monk Kidd, Jodi Pi­coult, Clive Cus­sler, Lee Child, Den­nis Le­hane, Frances Mayes, Erik Lar­son and Mar­garet At­wood.

“We un­der­stood that it was re­ally, re­ally im­por­tant to have a re­ally flex­i­ble space to al­low for the au­thor series event, where 250 peo­ple could mill about within the col­lec­tion and food could be served,” says Brooke Breiner, in­te­rior de­signer with HBM. “We de­signed it so the col­lec­tion can be moved to the side, and chairs and ta­bles can be moved to open it up for these events.”

Un­der­stand­ing how im­por­tant such pro­grams are in mod­ern li­braries, the architect and de­signer also fo­cused on re­cal­i­brat­ing the over­all feel of the in­te­rior of the li­brary, which was orig­i­nally con­structed in 1994—pre-In­ter­net.

“Our con­cept was to cre­ate an open, bright, airy and well­lit space,” says Kennedy, adding that the orig­i­nal struc­ture was well in­tact, but the need to redo all the wiring and the HVAC sys­tem opened up a lot of pos­si­bil­ity with the redesign. “Noth­ing was added to the us­able square footage ex­cept for a new small el­e­va­tor and vestibule,” he adds.

Also, in re­sponse to in­put from eco-minded is­landers,

HBM sought to re­use, re­fresh and re­vamp when­ever pos­si­ble. “We used prod­ucts with re­cy­cled con­tent to re­duce the car­bon foot­print. And we were very careful of rec­og­niz­ing prod­ucts and fur­ni­ture that could be reused,” says Breiner. “There were some great pieces that we kept, in­clud­ing lounge chairs that we re­uphol­stered.”

Based in north­east­ern Ohio where they get only about 60 days of sun­shine per year, the redesign team was also in­vig­o­rated by Sani­bel’s amaz­ing pre­pon­der­ance of nat­u­ral beauty. “Sani­bel is not lack­ing in­spi­ra­tion in its nat­u­ral sur­round­ings,” says Breiner, cit­ing the color pal­ette as sandy tones and dif­fer­ent shades of blue that re­flect the tex­ture and tonal vari­a­tions of wa­ter com­ing up on the sand. “We also used corals, teals and or­anges from seashells on the beach.”

Mo­hun­dro is very ex­cited to wel­come pa­trons into the new space, which in­cludes new col­lab­o­ra­tive spa­ces, a think-tank area and a new teen area. “We’ve added more seat­ing along the win­dows as peo­ple re­quested, and these lit­tle liv­ing room ar­eas where you can sit and share ideas. We hope more peo­ple will make the li­brary a reg­u­lar stop on their vis­its and in their rou­tines and find us to be a home away from home,” she said.

To find out when the newly reimag­ined space will have its grand re­open­ing, go to san­ Bar­bara Linstrom, a free­lance writer/ pro­ducer based in South Fort My­ers, has writ­ten for Times of the Is­lands since its pre­miere is­sue in 1996. From 2006-2017, she served as ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of tele­vi­sion at WGCU, the re­gional PBS/NPR sta­tion.

The ren­o­vated Sani­bel Pub­lic Li­brary up­dates the 24-year-old struc­ture, bring­ing it into the 21st cen­tury and cre­at­ing a more open and airy feel.

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