D.C. seeking architect for Martin Luther King Library upgrades


One plan for MLK library would add two stories of office space on top, as pictured above. Another plan would add at least five or six. (Courtesy D.C. Library)

D.C. Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper says the library system has a “variety of options” for funding badly needed renovations at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library and she is on the hunt for an architect to help choose the best course.

For more than two years, Cooper and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) have been mulling options for how to fund upgrades for the 400,000-square-foot building.

Built in 1972 and designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the four-story steel-and-glass library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places but its elevators, bathrooms, hallways, heating and cooling systems, among other things, are in need of repair.

A panel from the Urban Land Institute weighed options ranging from relocating the library to adding to the building in various ways.

Cooper, who announced her retirement in May but is staying on until a replacement is named, said Tuesday that the library was seeking qualified architects to oversee the project.

“We’re not positive what it is we’re going to do, we really don’t know, but we are going to have an opportunity to hire an architect to look at what we could do and what it might cost and how we might move forward,” she said.

The most likely options suggest adding new stories of private office space atop the existing building to help fund renovations throughout the library.

The mayor has proposed $103 million in capital spending on the library over the next five years. Cooper said that money could fund the project completely if an additional five or six floors of private office space are added above the library, bringing the city new revenue.

A second option would require $220 million in capital spending but would require the library to add only two floors on top, Cooper said.

When he designed it, Mies envisioned a much taller building, so the existing structure can accommodate more floors, Cooper said. She said she was not sure, however, how many more could be added without needing to gut much of the interior and add new supports.

“The building would now support those two [additional] floors,” Cooper said. “What we don’t know is what we would have to do to the building to accommodate something further.”

Read the library’s request for qualifications for an architect here. Responses are due Sept. 23.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz

Jonathan O'Connell has covered land use and development in the Washington area for more than five years.
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