Athol Public Library

Athol Public Library by Tappé Architects




Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

Although one of the most economically depressed communities in Massachusetts, the community supported the comprehensive economic, social and environmental benefits of a Platinum-Level LEED-certified building as the best demonstration of their commitment to limit negative impact on the environment. Also, the decision to remain at the current location and retain/remodel the existing building expressed a dedication to a building footprint that will least impact the site, and contribute to economic revitalization of the historic town center.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

The primary economic generator for the town has been the L.S. Starrett Company, founded in 1880. The company used the river that runs through the town to power its mills. Those mills are still functioning today, although expanded to 500,000 sf. So, Athol continues to function as a “traditional New England Mill Town” in the 21st century. The land for the original building was given to the town by the Starrett Company, and, 3 generations later, the land for the addition was also donated by the Starrett Company. Now, the library has been a significant factor in the economic renaissance of the town, with the buildings for the businesses adjacent to the library on Main Street being renovated.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

Connection to River Heritage
The architecture of the building celebrates the economic/industrial heritage of the community by creating a connection through the building addition’s colonnade from Main Street to the Mill River. While the flanking sides of the addition are heavy masonry, the end of the library facing the river is floor to ceiling glass on both levels, focusing on the river and the mill buildings on the opposite bank. Now, a “Riverwalk” is being constructed that will carry the connection from Main Street, through the library to a recreational pathway and landscape developed along the river, using the library as the starting point.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

Financing Innovation
In another interesting initiative, the community decided to pay for the library in 5 years with a short term loan rather than a longer mortgage that would have reduced the annual individual tax bill. As they put it, “we don’t want to burden our children with the expense of the project – if we want it, we should pay for it now.”

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

“Looking Up” Innitiative – Kid Art
The art was created via an invitation to the local kids to take a digital picture looking up, in and around Athol. The final art would be installed on the ceiling in the Children’s library. The notion was that things are “Looking Up” in Athol. The expanded and renovated library is both an indication of an economic turnaround as well as a generator of a local renaissance. Already the building next door has been renovated and other new stores have opened on Main Street.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

We advertised the project as a sort of photography competition – the sort where there are no losers. It was my little brainchild to continue to focus attention on the project during construction. Each kid (of any age, BTW) submitted as may images they wanted to an email account which was associated with a Flickr account. All the photos were then posted on the account for anyone to see. Rather than pick one as a “winner” and have it become the ceiling art, we worked with a local college student who had developed an algorithm for “averaging” photographs.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

It essentially combines all the photos together into an impressionistic collage – not side-by-side, but completely overlapping. Then with some clever and skilled post processing with Photoshop, by another kid (then 14 year old internet photo sensation nicknamed “Fiddleoak” – google that to see his work and the respect that a kid can get for being talented and hardworking). It is installed at the end of the Children’s library with floor to ceiling glass focused on the River.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

Leed Challenges – Local opportunity
The library achieved one of the most difficult LEED credits – the FSC wood credit. Ordinarily, this credit requires all wood to be sourced from documented sustainable forests. However, the “new” wood flooring in the Carnegie is actually old. Salvaged from old mill buildings in the Athol area, the large old-growth timbers were resawn by an Athol reclamation company, Mann Lumber into the flooring. It still retains some of the old holes from fasteners that held the timbers together, signifying a connection to the community history as well a commitment to sustainability.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku

Additional Sustainable Initiatives
As a result of community input during the most recent long range planning process and alternative site examination, the library Trustees committed to remain in the current location and to preserve the town’s historic Carnegie library. This decision enabled the library to be an anchor in a nascent downtown redevelopment effort and to play a role in bringing to fruition the community-inspired Millers River Vision, rather than relocate to a ‘green space’ away from the town center. Source by Tappé Architects.

Athol Public Library
Photo © Chibi Moku
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