In 1876, an iconic brownstone building, located in the heart of Middletown at the foot of the campus of Wesleyan University, was dedicated by Frances Russell in memory of her husband, Samuel. Over time and through expansion, the facility incorporated three disparate buildings into the single structure that serves as a regional library.
As is the case with many well-loved community libraries, the Russell Library has continually adapted to the changing demands of its patrons and technology. Sweeping changes in the library’s role in providing accessible information technology services drove the first of several phases of renovation that TLB Architecture has had the good fortune to be involved with over the years.
Three separate phases of funding, design and construction have resulted in the successful transformation of the Information Technology and Computer Center, Children’s Services and Circulation Services areas. One of the most significant challenges to overcome was the structural capacity of the 2nd floor, which was not suitable for a library. Careful evaluation of programs, detailed investigations and equally detailed design and construction were foremost in maintaining a balance of the Board’s desires for expansion, the scope, cost and schedule for renovations, while keeping the library open to its patrons throughout the period of construction. Ultimately, floors were reinforced where required, lighting and HVAC upgraded, and the Information Technology, Reading Room, and Information areas were successfully arranged to connect visually with the Connecticut River and physically with the central courtyard / gathering place, within the allocated budget for construction.
While forward-looking with respect to material palette, lighting and architectural detail, these new spaces improve the quality of the exposed brownstone volumes to which they connect through thoughtful juxtaposition.
TLBA was again retained by the City of Middletown to conduct a building assessment and implement prioritized improvements and alterations of the exterior of Russell Library. The building was constructed over a period of nearly two centuries beginning with the original brownstone church wing in 1834 and the most recent addition in the mid-1980’s. Deficiencies that are the result of age, weather and heavy use are being carefully documented with a phased plan for repairs.
As the Library maximizes available space, TLBA was asked to provide a conceptual design to enclose the current courtyard, which would take an under-utilized seasonal space and make part of the overall Library footprint.