Kay Schwartz, Director of the Flint Public Library (FPL), remembers February 29, 2020 like it was yesterday. “That was the last day the old FPL was open to the public. It was two weeks before the start of the pandemic and we served nearly 2,000 people that day,” she shares. The next day, the FPL was closed and a complete overhaul and renovation of the facility began.
The building was stripped down to the outside walls, floors, elevators and beams. Those who visited the library in the past would be hard-pressed to find any remnant of the old layout. In fact, the library is almost unrecognizable. It’s a new start for an old and much-loved institution.
“We wanted to bring something new and amazing to the city. It’s a wonderful place for the people of Flint.”
KAY SCHWARTZ, FPL DIRECTOR
“The building was built new,” says Schwartz, “including every piece of pipe and wiring, including the pipes in the basement.” After an eight-month construction delay due to the pandemic and a lot of hard work by architects, construction crew and staff, the Flint Public Library officially opened to residents on Saturday, May 21. The total public cost was $30.6 million, which included bonds approved by Flint residents for $12.6 million that was matched by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation who also provided an additional $15 million grant for the project. Capital campaign donations from individuals, families and foundations covered the remainder.
The process began way back in 2017 with a search for a concept and design. “The staff took field trips to new libraries around our area for ideas and elements,” Schwartz explains. “We toured libraries in Clinton/Macomb, Novi, Bloomfield and Southfield.” The team then chose OPN Architects out of Cedar Rapids, IA to create the design and Michigan construction company, Clark, for implementation. After nearly five years of planning and work, the new library has emerged better than even Schwartz could have envisioned. “It exceeds my every expectation,” she says.
The new library boasts “more of everything” for its patrons. “We added nearly 16,000 square feet of space for learning and growth,” Schwartz states. In the new FPL, the Children’s Learning Center and Digital Learning spaces have been doubled, an additional 16 meeting rooms were added of all different sizes and functionalities, a new area (bottom floor) has been designated for local history and genealogy, a program room (the Conroy Room) was added for story time and other activities and in a new digital studio (opening in July), patrons can produce podcasts and other digital media. Food is now both permitted (with restrictions) and available (vending) at the library with fully-functioning kitchenettes designated for certain meeting rooms. To increase the facility’s energy efficiency, a brand-new HVAC system was installed along with more effective insulation. All water in sinks and drinking fountains is filtered by a reverse-osmosis system.
In addition to space additions, the FPL has upgraded functionality including new self-checkout machines, a new page- and document-scanning system, meeting room monitors and display projectors, and the ability to check out and use in-library laptop computers.
The design is fun, colorful and full of light – a perfect place for a child or adult to learn and grow.
The new FPL truly reflects Flint’s current and ongoing evolution as the city parts ways with the hardships of the past and embraces a brighter future. “The old building was beginning to break down. It was aging,” says Schwartz. “In a number of years, it would have been unusable. We wanted to bring something new and amazing to the city. It’s a wonderful place for the people of Flint and everyone should see and make use of it all.”
Photography by Katy Kildee