For fans of Main Library in downtown Columbus, the 14-month closure was worth the wait.
The branch, which closed April 13, 2015, as part of a campaign to rebuild or remodel 10 of Columbus Metropolitan Library's 23 branches, is reopening its doors June 25.
Patrons of this much-loved branch will be glad to know some things didn't change, but they're in for a treat in terms of how the building feels and functions.
Before they even set foot inside, visitors will notice a striking difference along Grant Avenue. The newly cleaned marble façade practically sparkles, and the Carnegie Plaza has been raised several feet. A landscaping makeover includes a lush new lawn, flowerbed, benches, lights and a cleaned-up Peter Pan fountain.
Inside, expect to be wowed by the revamped atrium, which is 30 feet larger and much more open. Staff offices once ringed the second and third floors, whose walls have been replaced by railings. Stairwells also were repositioned. Fear not: The Aminah Robinson murals are still there.
Throughout the building's three public floors are loads of new floor-to-ceiling windows, lower shelves and modern lighting and furniture. Numerous areas that once were staff space now are public areas. Offices were pushed to outer walls for a more open layout and better sight lines.
The new windows not only allow visitors to see out, but also allow the community to see in and hopefully bring more people into the library.
"This is not an expansion. We have not expanded Main Library's footprint. But it feels so much bigger," said Ben Zenitsky, marketing & communications specialist with Columbus Metropolitan Library. "The amount of public space has expanded tremendously."
Those sight lines carry through the atrium to a new east entrance, which leads to the new Park Plaza in back of the building. Built on a former parking lot of the adjacent Ohio School for the Deaf, the new outdoor space was inspired by Bryant Park in New York City. (CML bought the deaf school in 2013, kept the parking lot and sold the building to Cristo Rey Columbus High School.)
The park has a lighted performance space, loads of landscaping and a fantastic visual backdrop in the back of the library, whose solid walls were replaced with windows. Outdoor reading areas for patrons also will be used for story times and other children's division programming.
Park Plaza links to Topiary Park and its signature shrubs styled after George Seurat's painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.
"I think families are really going to appreciate that new access," said Abby Kiracofe, the new manager of the Main Library children's division.
The new children's area is built in a town square environment. Story times, which used to be in secluded areas, now will be held here, as will Summer Reading Club activities. Two entrances-one for adults, one for kids-are built into a glass wall off the south side of the atrium.
"We are bringing our programming and our services to customers front and center," Kiracofe said.
An emphasis on early childhood literacy includes a Ready for Kindergarten area, which CML is incorporating systemwide. The area-anchored by a wooden school bus-is designed to give kids and their parents a feel for the classroom. It offers interactive touchscreens with learning apps, toys and games to boost cognitive and motor skill development, focused programming and age-appropriate books.
"We want to make sure that parents are equipped to make sure their kids are ready for kindergarten," Kiracofe said.
A Reading Buddies program for students in grades K-3 lets youngsters practice their reading skills with library staff and volunteers, tied to Ohio's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee. Parents also can get help selecting appropriate books for their child. Want to know which titles correspond to reading level J? Just ask.
"We know that when kids are in third grade, they're reading to learn," Kiracofe said. "It's a very critical time."
The children's area also boasts a small aquarium, cool new views of the library loading dock and the helicopter pad at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, and-of course-lots of books.
"The kids' collection is more focused on what our customers want," Kiracofe said, including more popular and high-interest titles and fewer volumes that rarely are checked out.
Library officials wanted to give different age groups their own spaces, so a tween area bridges the gap between the children's area and the Homework Help Center. The latter, which serves students up through high school, is located in the old teen area, which is now on the second floor.
The teen area, which Kiracofe said is the largest in central Ohio, boasts an oversize graphic-print couch, its own book collection, computers and a new media center where students can get help with Photoshop, stop-motion animation and other tech tools.
"We wanted teens to feel special. They're a very important part of our population," Kiracofe said.
There are plenty of other new things to discover at Main Library.
All floors offer reading and seating spaces as well as meeting rooms, whose count increased from three to seven.
On the first floor, the entrance near the 100-person auditorium now faces Grant instead of the alley. The Friends of the Library Store and the Carnegie Café moved from the northwest corner of the building closer to the east entrance.
The biggest change on the second floor is the aptly named new Grand Reading Room, which has loads of seating and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Park Plaza. Also on this level are the Carnegie Gallery, fiction books, about 100 public computers and private study areas. New second-floor walkways allow patrons to travel between the Carnegie building and the 1991 expansion.
On the third floor are nonfiction books and Local History and Genealogy, which includes a new digitization lab. There's also now a stunning view of downtown Columbus, courtesy of a bank of west-facing windows that used to be a wall.
Art still plays a prominent role at the library, including multiple works from Robinson. New additions come from Ohio State University professor and artist Ann Hamilton, whose stacked-book prints will be used as navigational aids. In Park Plaza, Virginia Overton's Untitled was crafted from marble veneer removed from the back of the building, reminiscent of stacked books.
The perpetually popular art unbound exhibit will return to the second-floor Carnegie Gallery through Aug. 27. Local artists were challenged to take books weeded from the collection and turn them into works of art.
Main Library has a full slate of activities on tap June 25, including a grand opening, a PBJ & Jazz concert in Topiary Park, a showing of The Lorax and a sold-out author talk June 26 with David Baldacci. For the full schedule, go to columbuslibrary.org.