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Upgrading library interior goal of renovation plan

When Homer Babbidge Library is rededicated next October, it will have more than a new exterior.

University officials have announced a plan to renovate and modernize the interior of the library, along with a $3 million fund-raising initiative to support it.

The project is receiving a high priority from the administration.

"The library is the heart of the University's academic function and also the physical center of campus," says President Philip E. Austin. "It is central to everything we do."

Mark Emmert, chancellor, says "It is essential that we not only repair the outside of the library, but also improve substantially its effectiveness as an academic resource. We must enhance the interior spaces and facilities so that our main library can lead the University into the information age of the 21st century.

"Consistent with our commitment to the library as the center of academic endeavor, we will encourage private philanthropy and provide whatever other support is necessary to assure that we can look to Babbidge Library with pride," he says.

Renovations to the exterior are continuing and are expected to be completed by next April, according to Larry Schilling, executive director of facilities management. The plastic wrap and scaffolding have now been removed from all but one side of the building. Schilling says the tasks that remain include putting a new roof on the building, waterproofing the plaza, and constructing a new entrance facing Fairfield Road.

But though the repair project has finally been successful, it included no money for renovations to the interior.

"We've still got a 1970s library with 1990s clothing on it," says Schilling.

Paul Kobulnicky, director of University libraries, says "In the 25 years since the building was designed and built, incredible changes have taken place in the library profession. The impact of information technology has been profound, to say the least."

Although the repair project has corrected structural problems, it does not convey the revolutionary changes occurring in the delivery of information services, he says.

The proposed renovations will include deferred maintenance, such as carpeting, painting and furniture. More importantly, Kobulnicky says, "The renovations will make sure the building is prepared for the next 20 years with respect to technical infrastructure and programs that take advantage of technology."

The planned interior renovations include redesigning the interior of the main reference floor, now known as Level 1, to provide an electronic information center that will consolidate on one floor all the staff and facilities that support the new information technologies.

"This is an opportunity to bring coherence physically and programmatically to the initial research for information that faculty and students undertake," Kobulnicky says. The center will also offer training for faculty and students in the use of electronic resources.

Level 1 will include:

  • a reference information station;
  • an information technology station;
  • an information "cafe" - clusters of workstations on the model of a cafe - for conducting primary research;
  • information technology classrooms; and
  • a microlab.

The plaza level will include:

  • a meeting room with a capacity of 75, named for the class of 1947, which donated more than $28,000;
  • a reserve reading room, seating 75;
  • a cafe commons, with beverages and food available, and featuring continuous video news and e-mail;
  • a quiet 24-hour study room, seating 25;
  • and a seating/display area for reviewing new library books.

A new entrance pavilion - a 40-foot glass cube facing what will become a pedestrian mall - will offer access to the library from street level. The fund-raising plans include a proposal to purchase permanent art for this space.

"This will be such a beautiful place, such a prominent place, it calls out for art work," says David Kapp, special assistant to the director and coordinator of the initiative for the library.

In addition, as part of the repair project, the exterior south plaza will be joined with the Dodd Center plaza, to create a 20,000-square foot area. Library administrators hope to raise sufficient funds to include developing this space for community use.

"In terms of the kind of campus we're trying to build, this is a perfect place to start," Kapp says. "It's in the center of campus, it's large, and it lends itself to ceremonial activities and - if properly developed - to more intimate classes, exhibits, and concerts as well."

The renovations are expected to begin immediately after the end of this academic year, and to be complete by Oct. 1, in time for the October 18 rededication ceremony.

"The completion of the library is symbolic of what's happening at the University more broadly," says Edward Allenby, vice president for institutional advancement and president of the UConn Foundation Inc. "It reflects the fact that something that's been problematic over the years is now reaching a conclusion and will be really high quality."

Kenneth Ashworth, vice president for development of the UConn Foundation Inc., agrees. "The library could be seen as a symbol of the University's renaissance," he says.

Ashworth says fund raising for the library raises a special challenge because the library has no alumni of its own in the way a school or college does. He says the Foundation will seek out donors who are either interested in the library itself or want to do something to help the University. "If anyone is interested in doing something for the University as a whole, this is one of the first things we'll mention to them."

Ashworth has reason to be optimistic. The library has already garnered support from the two most recent 50th reunion classes. "Both classes agreed the library was a good recipient because it doesn't represent a particular school but does represent something for the University as a whole," he says.

The library also will benefit from a gift of $250,000 over five years from Thompson Corporation, a Stamford-based publishing company, and $500,000 over the same period from Coca Cola, as part of an arrangement with the Division of Athletics.

Ashworth says that although the need to raise money for the library is acute this year - with the official reopening just 12 months away - fund raising for the library will always be a priority for the University.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu