Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Inside the New Good Hope Library

Years later than expected, new library is open. Was it worth the wait? Yes.

By - Jul 29th, 2020 05:43 pm
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Good Hope Library. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

Good Hope Library. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Public Library held a celebration Wednesday to mark the opening of the Good Hope Library. It was later than expected, and, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, looked a whole lot different than past ribbon-cutting events. But regardless of how long it took, the city has a new library that’s designed to do much more than just house books.

“It’s not your grandma’s library,” said Mayor Tom Barrett, a phrase he has used repeatedly to mark the transition from a quiet place for books to a community hub for people to do everything from register to vote and access city services to host community meetings and, yes, check out books.

The library, the fourth in the past decade to open on the first floor of a mixed-use building, replaces the Mill Road Library, a single-story facility that originally opened in 1970.

The difference between the two libraries is obvious the second you walk in the door. The Good Hope Library, 7715 W. Good Hope Rd., has a substantial amount of natural light and flexible space, while the now-closed, circular Mill Road Library featured small windows among its stacks and a rigidly-defined meeting room that needed to be locked when not used by a large group.

Guests at the new library are greeted by a checkout desk and a “laptop lounge,” a welcoming space with high windows and a lovely view, a great place for kids to wait for their parents to pick them up, charge a device or quickly access the internet. A two-sided fireplace, a staple of the new libraries that the Milwaukee Public Library Foundation donates, adds warmth to the design.

On the other side of the fireplace is the community room, with a movable wall that converts it to open space for all patrons when not checked out by a group.

The traditional stacks, much lower than at libraries of yore, are ringed by a series of amenity spaces.

“The teens and children make out like bandits in this,” said MPL development manager Sam McGovern-Rowen on a tour. “That was very intentional.”

For instance: A “teen cube,” a slightly-elevated, purple-tinted glass room, affords a “private” space for teenagers to make noise and hang out. Inside is a variety of movable furniture, large television and a Nintendo Switch video game system. McGovern-Rowen, father of two teens, notes the space provides the perfect level of privacy, just enough to feel separate, while allowing adults to see in.

A children’s area is located further into the 18,400-square-foot library. The space, separated by a fabric-covered wall that provides embedded seating only a child can use, features two custom half-circle furniture pieces that create an interior play or reading space ringed with a bench while the outside is lined with books. “This is my favorite,” said McGovern-Rowen, noting it’s perfectly shaped for a group reading session or individual use.

A group table, with chairs designed to hold backpacks, is located at the back of the library and designed to be used by MPL’s afterschool “Teacher in the Library” program.

A series of small meeting rooms, reservable online, line the wall furthest from the door. They’re designed to be used by small groups or individuals that just want a quiet space.

A makerspace room includes a 3D printer and laser cutter, the only two in the library system. McGovern-Rowen said the makerspace, included at the request of area Alderwoman Chantia Lewis and others in the community, helps connect the library and its patrons to the emerging manufacturing cluster on the city’s northwest side. The library will work with teens on using the space, but any patron can reserve time on the machine, which also includes audio-visual production equipment and a small lab.

“Really the heart of this is workforce development,” said Petra Duecker, teen education and outreach specialist. She said compared to the makerspace in the Mitchell Library, this one is focused on industrial design and engineering.

Lewis hopes the new library is about far more than workforce development. “We are standing in the downtown area of the New Ninth,” she said, a phrase she uses to brand her aldermanic district. She said the library serves as an important community hub given that her district is so far from the heart of the city. The new library is 9.8 miles from City Hall.

The location isn’t lost on Barrett. “We are demonstrating our commitment to serving all residents of the community,” he said.

The library will pay a small dividend to residents that never step inside of it. The apartment building that wraps it will pay property taxes, one of many efficiencies and benefits of combining the libraries with a private development.

“These developments are only possible because of public-private partnerships,” said retiring MPL director Paula Kiely. The project is the fourth new library, with Good Hope following Villard Square, East and Mitchell Street, that she has overseen the development of during her 14-year tenure. She’ll be replaced by deputy director Joan Johnson who also attended Wednesday’s ceremony.

The project was first announced in 2014, with Royal Capital Group developing 65 apartments on the building’s upper floors with backing from the federal low-income housing tax credit program. But the firm experienced delays in securing the competitively-awarded credits, which slowed the whole project. Melissa Allen of Maures Development ultimately joined the project to provide development support.

On August 15th, 2019, MPL held a walk-through of the unfinished library in anticipation of a November opening. That didn’t happen due to construction delays. Then the pandemic pushed things back even further.

But both the library and the apartment building are now open.

Other libraries are expected to reopen in the coming weeks as part of a staggered plan. Curbside pickup is already available at the Tippecanoe, Central and Washington Park libraries.

The city has 14 libraries, including the large Central Library and the automated library at Westlawn.

Platt Construction served as the general contractor on the library’s portion of the project. Zimmerman Architectural Studios led the design of the library. Engberg Anderson Architects led the design of the apartment building, with North Track Construction leading its construction.

The city budgeted $4.5 million for its portion of the project.

Photos

Ceremony

Mill Road Library

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