BBS Architects Modernizes N.Y. High School Library

By Jessie Fetterling

WEST ISLIP, N.Y. — Libraries are in the midst of a transformation, as 21st century learning redefines how students use this once traditional space. A recent $2.08 million renovation of the 8,200-square-foot library at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip is a key example of this evolution, as it brings a flexible and collaborative environment to this now multipurpose venue.

The previous Msgr. Robert T. Mulligan Library had not been renovated or redesigned since the school was originally built in 1966. It was still filled with book stacks, several of which were empty due to the digitization of part of the collection, according to a statement. To modernize the facility, the school contracted Patachogue, N.Y.-based BBS Architects, Landscape Architects and Engineers to redesign the facility. BBS served as architect; interior and furniture designer; mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineer; and technology consultant for the project.

A flexible study area with an oversized sofa, lounge chairs and study tables make the space feel much more like a living room than a library.

In the several years it took the school to raise funds for the library, the design veered away from its original plan that included a section with multiple computer workstations. In that time, the design team realized students were increasingly using their own electronic devices and opted to instead design a dedicated room for graphic design–related classes. The room was originally pre-wired for a number of high-end computers that freed up space to allow for more creativity and flexibility within the library, according to a statement.

While the main reading room still features an abridged physical collection of book stacks, they presently only occupy 40 percent of the main reading room. A centrally located reference desk and checkout counter, and flexible study area with an oversized sofa, lounge chairs and study tables, make the space feel more like a living room than a library.

A multifunction room occupies the west end of the main reading room and is equipped with printers and two, wall-mounted display screens. A glazed movable wall creates a physical and acoustical separation between the multifunction room and the rest of the library.

The library also features a second, smaller reading room that includes tables and chairs, a 3-D printing station and a study counter with high-backed stools. Additionally, a new, 16-person-capacity conference room features a boardroom-style table and the graphic design classroom features more than 30 Apple workstations.

“[The library] can be used for multiple classes simultaneously, faculty and board meetings, tutoring, before and after school clubs, and social events,” said Tracy Hansen, AIA, an interior and furniture designer for BBS. “This multipurpose space has become the heart of the school, which now frees up the rest of the facilities from multitasking for all those activities.”

During the design process, student feedback indicated a preference for visiting the cafeteria after-hours to study and to access food and beverages, so the design team prioritized space for vending machines and a high-end coffee machine.

Technology also helped redefine the space, as the main reading room features an oversized, nine-screen video wall on which librarians and students can wirelessly control projected content.

In order to accommodate the new audiovisual and data connections as well as the high number of charging stations and power outlets installed, BBS increased the amount of power going into the library, according to a statement.

“The incorporation of Wi-Fi into the new library has freed up the entire space to be a flexible one,” Hansen said. “Moveable, easily maintained furniture allows the space to serve many types of groups — large and small.”