University shares initial plans for Gelman renovations

Clarification appended

Creating a second entrance to Starbucks, building additional group study space and even installing a fish tank were floated around as ideas to fix an aging Gelman Library Wednesday, at an open forum for students looking to inject their opinions into the renovation plans.

A University-hired architect presented a potential plan for remodeling the first floor of the library, but throughout the event stressed, along with administrators, that there is still no timeline for the renovations to begin.

Architect Jonathan Chung gave a rundown to the 20-member audience of his proposed plan, which also includes an eating area to the left of the library’s entrance, large projection screens in group study spaces and computer charge stations.

GW officials have said for years that rehabilitating an aging Gelman Library is a top priority for the University, but in October GW’s top officials were unable to present specific details on how the University planned to secure the necessary funding for repairs, or even say how much money had been raised to embark on renovations for the building.

But with student complaints mounting, GW is again launching a plan to mend the building.

Administrators developed the idea to renovate about five years ago in response to overwhelming student complaints of overcrowding, limited electrical outlets and the general outdated appearance of the library. In 2009, Gelman officials released detailed first floor renovation sketches, but Gelman administrators said they were starving for the funding to back the $5 million project.

Gelman is allocated an operating budget by GW to support the library, but was told in the past that renovation funds would not come from internal sources.

That narrative is changing as administrators make Gelman a priority for the University, reflecting widespread student complaints over the aging building. GW is now looking for donors to fund renovations as well as looking internally for monies that could be used to give the building a face-lift.

University President Steven Knapp said in October – to explain why funding Gelman renovations through debt was not a priority – that GW prefers to incur debt for projects when there is a concrete way to repay the loan through revenue generated by the project/

“In the case of the library, we don’t have a fee structure that provides income over time, so we need to find a way to pay for renovations up front rather than borrow money we plan to pay back later,” Knapp said in October. “Nevertheless, we are working hard on a funding plan for renovating Gelman, and it is a very high priority for me, for the provost and for the University.”

There has been little talk about renovating the seven other floors of the 38-year-old building.

Student response at the forum was mixed, with some students presenting exhaustive ideas to upgrade the aesthetics of the library.

Outspoken critic of the renovations, sophomore Josh Benjamin, said students were suggesting ideas to make Gelman a cool place to hang out, forgetting that the library should be a study space first.

“I don’t think anything needs to be changed aesthetically. It’s a library,” Benjamin said. “If you go there, you’re there to study. You’re not there to have fun.”

Another concern the floor plan raised was the balancing of sound and group study space with individual study space.

While some students said Gelman lacks individual cubicles, especially around exams, others said they use the library mainly for group meetings.

“I think the University is making a bad decision renovating one floor at a time,” said sophomore Keith Osentoski, who is also a work-study student in the library. “My concern is if we make the first floor into this big collaborative thing, does that take away from individual space?”

This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly characterized the funding timeline for Gelman. In October, University President Knapp and others, discussed a plan to fund Gelman through external and internal sources. That plan is further along.

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