When city officials in Elmsford, N.Y. wanted to expand their town’s library in 2003, they needed public approval to do it.

They got the approval they needed – but just barely.

“The winning vote was by 60 votes, out of a 1,200-person referendum,” said Salvatore Coco, a principal with Beatty Harvey Coco, the architects on the project. “It was controversial because it was the biggest public project the town has ever done.”

The original building, completed in 1968 in modern Brutalist style, was retained and gutted for an open-space area for young adult literature and the audio-video collection, and was clad in a new curtain wall with wider windows.

Construction of the new $19.9 million building presented another setback, however: the team designed an open-loop geothermal system for heating and cooling, which won the project a $100,000 grant from the state. However, an aquifer that serves New York City turned out to be 500 ft away from where it was originally mapped. The original plan to dig 1,500 ft would have interfered with the aquifer, so the team redesigned the system to be closed-loop, without affecting schedule, and, in effect, creating a cleaner system overall. This also helped the project meet LEED certification requirements, although the library opted not to pursue a rating.

The new structure, which doubled the library’s size to 46,000 sq ft, uses beige molded brick at its base to complement the existing building.

“The old library had limestone wrapping around it,” explained Coco. “We frankly couldn’t afford that.”

A fritted-glass curtain wall, emphasizing daylight while reducing computer-screen glare and heat gain, runs in a linear ribbon window set deep into the base, which, in turn slopes outward into the ground, planting the building and accentuating the horizontal – until it gets to the roof. There, a sloping prow boldly projects upward from the entrance to double the height at its end, where it hangs over a cantilevered curtain wall that opens up to the main reading room, the library’s most dynamic space.

The main reading room houses the entire adult collection, reference, and computers. Below the main reading room is the double-height Annex, housing a shop. The building overall incorporates both quiet and active spaces, to serve the needs of a new type of library.

“What happened with libraries in many suburban communities is that it’s the only community space that they have, whether it’s a noisy interactive space or a quiet contemplative space,” Coco said. “And the library today is a place where all these spaces have to coexist.”

Key Players

Developer/Owner: Triton Construction Management, Garden City, NY
General Contractor: EW Howell Construction General Manager, Woodbury, NY
Lead Architect: Beatty Harvey Coco, LLP, New York
Structural Engineers: Gilsanz Murray Steficek, New York
MEP Engineers: AKF Enginners, Stamford, CT
Civil: TRC Raymond Keyes Associates, Hawthorne, NY
Mechanical Contractors: Mengler Mechanical Inc., Brewster, NY
Electrical Contractors: D&M Electrical Contracting, Elmsford, NY
Plumbing Contractors: Frank & Lindy Pumbing & Heating Service Co., Peekskill, NY