Newark’s downtown library set for a $44.4M upgrade, with emphasis on sustainability and quality space

Upgrades will address aging infrastructure, HVAC issues, failing systems, limited space for programming and visitors and parking constraints.

The exterior of the Newark Free Library building

Newark Free Library (Newark Free Library website)

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One of Delaware’s busiest circulating libraries, a community cornerstone since 1974, is set to receive a $44.4 million facelift.

Launched about 18 months ago, the project aims to modernize the library’s building and services, tackling long-standing issues that have plagued the institution.

Those challenges include the library’s aging infrastructure, HVAC issues, failing systems, limited space for programming and visitors and parking constraints.

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When tackling these challenges, Diana Brown, community service manager for New Castle County Libraries, pointed out that the critical factor was community input: deciding between replacing the building at its current location or finding an alternative site.

“We asked the community,” she said. “What we heard loud and clear was that the community really wanted the library to remain where it is. It’s vital to the community. It’s an anchor to the end of Main Street Newark and it’s on [a] bus line. It’s walkable for people who live in downtown Newark.”

Last month, almost 39,000 items were checked out at the library’s current location in downtown Newark. A move could have influenced this statistic positively or negatively.

Therefore, the library has opted to stay at its location and is now focusing on solidifying plans with Quinn Evans, a renowned architectural firm known for its sustainable design expertise, to enhance the library’s appearance and sustainability. Recently, a blueprint of the library was unveiled, showcasing its innovative features and sustainable design elements.

“You will see that it has what they call biophilic design, and biophilia is the science of how bringing the outdoors indoors is healthy for people,” Brown said. “They’re going to be using solar orientation and passive design to make sure that we are able to make the most of natural light. They’re going to be using sustainable building materials, and we will have an EV charging station.”

In its commitment to sustainability, architects will utilize solar orientation and passive design techniques to maximize natural light. They will also incorporate an all-electric mechanical system and solar panels.

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With community engagement at the forefront, community members emphasized their focus on quality space.

“One of the things we heard that people were looking for in terms of improvements and change is the quality of the space, you know, the layout of the space, the acoustics of the space, the resources that were available in the space, the different seating arrangements in different types of rooms,” she pointed.

In total, the two-story library will comprise 11 study rooms, conference and meeting rooms, a performance space, a children’s program room and, notably, an esports and media center with a recording studio — something uniquely important to the community.

“We have included a creative suite that supports podcasting. We have an esports space, and one of the things that I’m sure you’re aware of is that esports has really gone mainstream,” she noted. “The University of Delaware actually has a curriculum and some of the neighboring schools do as well. So this will really be our first library space to support esports.”

Lastly, because of the large number of transactions at the library, the first automated materials handling system will be introduced to simplify and accelerate the check-in and check-out process.

The Newark Free Library is scheduled for decommissioning by spring of next year, followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for the end of 2026.

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