In just five months, University of Rochester students will be working in a new collaborative study space at Rush Rhees Library they are sure to love. After all, they designed it.
A grand opening for the new facility, which features an open floor plan and lightweight furniture that students are encouraged to reconfigure, is planned for Meliora Weekend, Oct. 19 to 21.
Crews began converting 20,000 square feet of library staff offices into a wide-open group study area, media lounge, private work area, and meeting rooms this month. The entire $5 million project is being funded with a grant from the Gleason Foundation.
James S. Gleason is chairman of Gleason Corporation and chairman of the Gleason Foundation, a Life Trustee of the University, and a graduate of the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration. He said he wholly supports the university's plan to keep library facilities current.
"The role of a campus library is changing and the University is making the right move in creating a space in Rush Rhees that will suit the way students now work," said Gleason. "We are happy to be a part of this exciting project,"
Susan Gibbons, assistant dean for public services and collection development at River Campus Libraries, said the University was in need of a space that matched the collaborative academic spirit on campus.
"We felt we had facilities here that did a good job supporting students who wanted a quiet place to study, but what the library didn't have, and what the campus didn't have in general, were spaces conducive to group studying," Gibbons said.
The new space, located on the first floor of the library's east wing, will be connected to the ground floor computing center, and in the tradition of that center, both areas will be open 24 hours. The offices originally located on the first floor space have been dispersed throughout the library.
Part of the concept for the new venue, Gibbons said, was the University's desire to give students a sense of freedom and ownership. Last spring, she and her staff asked students for their input through design workshops. Students drew their own designs for the space and made notes about features they wanted. This January, students were consulted again about furnishings.
Architects at Ayers Saint Gross, a Baltimore-based firm whose specialties include campus planning and student life facilities, used the student designs to create the plans for the unique space. Many of their suggestions were incorporated into the final design, like comfortable and moveable furniture, a bright color palette, and an area for viewing movies.
Ronald Dow, the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of River Campus Libraries, said the project has been in planning for 10 years, and it took the students' ingenuity and the generosity of the Gleason Foundation to bring it to life.
"The Gleason Foundation funded a library vision in support of student learning and now today's students, through their imagination and participation in the project, have helped us fulfill that vision with a crafted space that will resonate with their classmates," Dow said.
Student desire for more natural light drove one of two major structural changes that will define the new space. Several large picture windows will be punched through the brick fašade to brighten up the building's interior and add visual interest to the exterior. The other structural change is the addition of a grand staircase that will connect the new first floor to the main entrance at the back of the building.
Peter Lennie, the Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, said the new study and collaboration area will raise the library's profile on campus.
"Rush Rhees Library has long been the heart of campus, and this marvelous new space will make it an even more vital part of student life," Lennie said. "I'm especially delighted that our students were so much involved in its design."
The Gleason Foundation has long been a supporter of the University of Rochester. It gave the University $500,000 for the renovation of the Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library and at the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, the foundation has funded capital projects, faculty support, curriculum development, and research.
In 2001, a new building at the Simon School was named in James Gleason's honor. His wife, Janis, serves as a director of the Gleason Foundation and has been active for many years with the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries. She is a staunch supporter of literary arts at the library and other organizations in the Rochester community.