Architect suggested for new Walker Library

County commissioners will vote this month on a selection committee’s top pick

Design work for a new Walker Library on the existing Uptown site will begin in earnest this fall following the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners’ approval of an architect for the project.

The county’s Designer Selection Committee recommended a firm earlier this summer after reviewing 21 proposals. The name won’t be released until Sept. 14, when a board committee reviews the suggestion. The full county board is scheduled to vote on the matter Sept. 21.

If the architect is approved, the board will direct staff to negotiate a contract, said County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, whose represents the area. Then the firm will begin drawing up plans and engaging the community in the design process.  

Dorfman said it is unlikely that the board will disagree with the selection committee’s decision, but it has happened in the past.

“Everybody indicated they were impressed by the range of firms and number of firms that came in with very credible proposals,” she said. “So there were a lot to choose from and the only thing I heard coming from the process is a lot of consensus in the recommendation.”

The Walker Library’s subterranean design was considered cutting edge when new in 1981, but has since been plagued with structural issues including leaks. A community input process last year found that few people favor the design, which many found uninviting and lacking curb appeal.

A Community Advisory Committee drafted a vision statement for a new library earlier this summer that made visibility a priority.

“The new library should reflect the unique character and diversity of the Uptown area, creating a highly visible building that is fully engaged with its surroundings,” the report said.

The advisory committee sought a landmark building identifiable as the library during both the day and night, one that is easily accessible, reflects the character of the neighborhood and incorporates ample natural light and open spaces. The group wanted an improved connection to the Midtown Greenway and a design that incorporates green space, as well as a variety of improved services including an expanded library collection and enhanced technology.   

Some early community suggestions involved incorporating the original, pre-1981 Walker Library building still standing across the street, but that building has since become the new home of LifePower Uptown, a yoga and Pilates boutique. No adjacent properties are being considered as part of the new design.

Hennepin County has set aside $12 million for the library rebuild, though Dorfman said it might not cost that much. The county initially budgeted $15 million, but dropped the funding because of budget constraints.

The county has discussed rebuilding or relocating Walker Library for nearly a decade, but plans never moved forward, even after a request for proposals was sent to developers in 2004 and several plans were reviewed.

Dorfman said the most recent process has moved slower than anticipated, but she’s confident it will end with a new library in Uptown. The hope is to open the facility in 2012.

“We really think it’s important that the community stays involved and that we do this right and not fast,” she said.

To view the Community Advisory Committee’s full vision statement for the new library, go to hclib.org/cac.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]