Jul 13, 2020

‘It’s going to look very empty’

Bryan Cole / The Collegian
With less than a month before the scheduled February reopening, budget freeze renders university unable to completely furnish library

For the planned January grand opening of the newly constructed and renovated Henry Madden Library, students were to walk over the elaborate marble tile entryway and be welcomed in by electronic signs and HD screens. Rooms filled with tables, chairs and iMacs were to be available for individual and group study areas.

For the actual Feb. 20 grand opening, students will walk through the entryway to no electronic signs, no HD screens and an obvious lack of tables, chairs and computers.

“If we had furnishings, it would be a great place to hang out,” Dean of Library Services Peter McDonald said.

While McDonald reports that construction is 99 percent done, the delay of the opening is instead due to a state budget freeze on construction projects. The university announced to staff and faculty on Jan. 13 that the library would be opening Feb. 20 because of the state’s fiscal situation.

The university only notified students via e-mail on Jan. 20, one week later, and the day before instruction began on campus for the spring 2009 semester.

State budget freeze holds up furnishings

In December, the state’s Pooled Money Investment Board voted to cut off funds for highway, school and infrastructure projects, including California State University’s (CSU) state-funded projects.

Bryan Cole / The Collegian

“We even had to suspend funding that affects 2,000 plus infrastructure projects that were already underway. So now the bulldozers are silent. The nail guns are still. The cement trucks are parked,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his January State of the State speech. “This disruption has stopped work on levees and housing and schools and roads, on everything.”

All CSU state-financed design and construction contracts are suspended until funding is re-established. This includes the $8 million for library furnishings and other equipment.

“The campus leadership has been diligent in ensuring that students are able to access the new library,” University President John D. Welty said to staff and faculty in his spring assembly speech earlier this week. “But the critical question that we’ve been forced to answer is how much cash is needed to open the library, or in more simple terms, pay outstanding bills and complete construction and buy furnishings and equipment.”

In a follow-up to this speech, Welty estimated the number of furnishings that would be in place upon reopening would be about one-fifth of what the university had initially planned for.

Finishing touches are still being made on the north wing, such as installing handrails on the staircase, and on the south wing’s renovations. According to McDonald, any and all available funds are being collected to pay the contractor.

Bryan Cole / The Collegian

Construction highlights

Since 2005, Swinerton Builders has overseen the 283,600 square foot addition that replaced the north wing of the library that was built in 1956. Construction also included the renovation of the 68,695 square foot south wing that was built in 1980.

The $105 million building project was financed with funds from the Proposition 55 bond measure approved by California voters in 2004 and from a $10 million donation from the Table Mountain Rancheria in 2006. When completed, the library will be the largest library in the CSU system.

An original estimate for the completion of the library was summer 2008. Yet as construction continued following the August 2006 demolition of the north wing, the opening date has continually been pushed back.

When the fall 2008 semester ended, students left campus for winter break expecting the library to open when school started for the spring 2009 semester.

Maximum services with minimal furniture

Even with a lack of furniture and equipment, the library will open with services available in the north wing’s collection level, first, second and third floors, and in the entire south wing.

“For students who have not had a library in their career here, they have to have the library open,” McDonald said.

McDonald can sympathize with Fresno State students who have not yet stepped foot in a university library. He began work as the library dean in February 2007. At that time his library was a hole.

“What we’re now trying to manage is to make the experience exciting for students given the situation we’re in,” McDonald said.

While there will not be many tables and chairs for students to use in the new library, there are some features that McDonald hopes will draw students in.

Besides the Starbucks on the second floor, the library will house the largest compact shelving unit in the world all on one floor.

The compact shelving allows for more efficient storage of the 1.3 million volumes due to the rows of shelving that move along electronic rails. Students push a button to open the row and reach the books.

The original intent was to have all the books on one floor so the other floors would be open for students to study.

“That was the hope with all the furnishings,” McDonald said. “Now it’s going to look very empty.”

All current library services remain, such as 200 laptops on loan, in addition to new services, such as a fully staffed reference section.

“We have to now figure out, how do we provide some of those services creatively,” McDonald said.

One creative idea McDonald hopes to pass around the campus is a beanbag drive where every department on campus donates a beanbag to the library for students to use while they study.

“I would not sit on the floor or a beanbag, not if I’m trying to study,” sophomore kinesiology major Larissa Maicrowicz said.

However, students like Maicrowicz might not have the opportunity to sit in a chair to read or drink their coffee until state funding is re-established.

Administrative facilities move postponed

The lack of funds for furnishings not only delays the opening of the library, but also other planned projects on campus like the renovation of the Nursing Lab and several minor capital outlay projects.

All administrative offices in the Thomas Administration Building, including Welty’s office, will not be moving into the Harold H. Haak Administrative Center on the fourth floor until there are funds to furnish the floor.

Also not moving into the library are the Learning Resource Center and the Services for Students with Disabilities office.

“The library itself is going to be beautiful,” McDonald said. “But I think there’s a feeling of great disappointment and frustration.”

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