PHILADELPHIA: This April, the Free Library of Philadelphia will open reimagined spaces in the Parkway Central Library, following years of planning and renovation.
The massive undertaking began with moving more than 800,000 books and materials before deconstructing six levels of historic stacks. Three bold, new public spaces were created: The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement, the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC), and the Marie and Joseph Field Teen Center.
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The creative repurposing, conceived by the Free Library and designed by acclaimed firm Safdie Architects, of 41,000 square feet is the largest renovation since Parkway Central was completed in 1927 and fundamentally changes the way the public interacts with the space. In 2006, only 35 percent of the building was open to the public. This phase of the renovation increases public space to 68 percent.
For nearly a century, Parkway Central Library has been an iconic landmark in Philadelphia, and this renovation has ensured that it remains a cornerstone of literacy, culture, and education for years to come, said Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. We wanted to give this space back to the people we serve, for members of the community to gather, to discuss, and to learn.
The $35.8 million renovation is funded with support from the William Penn Foundation, the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, as well as generous donations from individuals.
The Free Library will celebrate with festivities culminating in a grand opening for the public on April 12. The opening will unveil art created by Philadelphia-based artist Colette Fu exclusively for the Free Library—in partnership with the City of Philadelphia's Percent for Art Program, which sits within Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy—a series of four tunnel books paying homage to the historic stacks.
The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement
The Heim Center is designed to allow open-ended, informal use by visitors and will be activated by public programs presented by members of the community and augmented by programs offered by the staff of the Free Library's Division of Cultural and Civic Engagement. The 7,200-square-foot Heim Center—occupying a sweeping balcony overlooking the BRIC—will be a dynamic, flexible community space where visitors define their own experience.
Business Resource and Innovation Center
The BRIC houses the Library's business, workforce development, patent, and non-profit resources under one umbrella. The 8,200-square-foot new space was designed to help community leaders and small business owners start, grow, and improve their organizations and job seekers launch the next phase of their careers. With an open floor plan and space for counseling and collaboration, the BRIC features conference and breakout rooms for brainstorming, meetings, and more.
PECO and Comcast NBCUniversal are lead sponsors of innovative workforce development programs and digital literacy classes in the new spaces.
Marie and Joseph Field Teen Center
This new space is a haven for teenagers and teenagers only. The Field Teen Center is a 4,000-square-foot open-plan lounge area, with flat-screen monitors and movable furniture. It is the first ever space designed exclusively for teens in Parkway Central.
William B. Dietrich Grand Staircase
This staircase, which connects the historic lobby with the modern spaces in the library, was transformed into parallel stairways, constructed and seamlessly integrated with the original, iconic staircase using 14,000 square feet of pink marble salvaged from the renovation.
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