Library & Workforce Center Redesign Project

Current Situation

The uniqueness of the City-owned Gunnar Birkerts-designed building added character to downtown Duluth in the 1980’s. In 2023, the 43-year-old building is a resource in desperate need of redesign. The building is overdue for renovation and replacement of HVAC, windows, insulation, siding, etc. Duluth currently lacks a common downtown facility for community meetings and workshops, workforce training classes, access to services and technology, early education, and youth programming. It is believed that updates can be achieved more efficiently and cost effectively by rebuilding the facility from the ground up.

  • A structural evaluation of the Downtown Library facility determined that the current building is a resource in desperate need of redesign. While the current facility has served the community for over 40 years, it has reached the end of its useful life and is overdue for a bevy of replacements, repairs, and upgrades to HVAC, windows, insulation, siding, and more. While not all-inclusive, the following major systems are in need of an upgrade or replacement
    • Exterior walls: the existing exterior walls are poorly insulated and leak water and air into the building. They will need to be replaced in their entirety with walls that are well-insulated, well-sealed, and made of durable materials.
    • Heating and cooling systems: the existing heating and cooling systems are inefficient and at the end of their useful life.
    • Electrical systems: the existing electrical system is at the end of its useful life.
    • Life safety system: renovating the building will require that the existing fire alarm system be replaced with a system that meets current building code requirements.
    • Lighting systems: exterior and interior lighting systems are inefficient and at the end of their useful life.
    • Interior finishes: flooring, interior walls, and ceilings will need to be replaced in order to reconfigure the building interior for current operations and to increase accessibility.
    • The original building was built prior to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many spaces in the building do not meet current guidelines and will need to be substantially reconfigured to make the library accessible and welcoming to all.
  • Duluth Workforce Development currently leases space from a private third party, along with its CareerForce partners. Co-location of their offices into a downtown library facility would invest funds spent on rent back into a public facility, while helping limit cost increases on rent over time – helping ensure funds can be spent on serving customers.
    • Co-locating services provided by Duluth Public Library and CareerForce would provide users a better, more streamlined, more accessible, and more convenient user experience.
    • Through redesign and rebuilding, the City of Duluth will grow economic and educational opportunity for its residents while establishing a space of belonging through better utilization of public space. Co-locating library, workforce development, tele-access, education, public health and wellness services into one facility in the heart of downtown is the most efficient way to serve the region and will create a better user experience.

Existing structure limitations:

In a renovation scenario, once major building systems have been replaced the only portion of the original building that would remain is the concrete structure. Unfortunately, the concrete structure in the existing building is larger and more closely spaced than a typical library building. Sightlines across the building are limited as the closely spaced columns block views. This presents a daily challenge for staff who need to be able to monitor safety in public spaces easily.

Ideally, a public library facility includes large, flexible spaces that can be used for a wide variety of activities. The Green Room in the existing library has large columns in the center of the room that limit the number of people who can comfortably use the room. A larger community gathering space is desired to meet community programming needs but cannot be added due to the closely spaced columns in the existing building.

The existing structure is also not adequate to support needed energy efficient improvements. The use of state funds comes with requirements about building and site energy performance which necessitate the inclusion of a green roof and a PV solar array on the rooftop. The current structure’s foundations are not designed to accommodate any additional weight; to support the new systems, the existing concrete roof deck would need to be reinforced.

The building’s shape, with upper floors overhanging lower floors, is not ideal for interior daylighting. State funding requires that building occupants have access to daylight in all regularly occupied spaces. Meeting this requirement will require significant changes to the size, location, and orientation of windows. It’s likely that it will also require light wells to be cut into the existing structural floors to allow light into the lower level.

Additionally, the large overhangs on the building make it difficult to comply with the state requirements for stormwater management. The overhangs limit opportunities for landscaping on the site by creating spaces with no access to rainfall or sun exposure.