A look back at the money, history and politics behind Gelman’s makeover

The reception and help desks will be relocated to the entrance floor, from the basement floor. Sarah Ferris | Hatchet Staff Photographer

GW officially unveiled Gelman Library renovations Monday morning, showing off a glittering new entrance and expansive second-floor study space meant to modernize the 40-year-old building. A grand staircase now leads patrons to the building, instead of an opening that brought students downstairs into a “cave-like” atmosphere, as University President Steven Knapp had put it. As part of the $16-million renovations, students also will be able to find more space to work in groups, and new technology to aid research.

But the renovations are about six years in the making, after administrators, faculty and students pressured GW’s top brass to make Gelman a priority. Here’s a look back at how the Gelman renovations came to be.

Hatchet File Photo

2007: Plans outlined for library’s facelift

Gelman Library, built in 1973 during Lloyd Elliott‘s presidency, was flagged for renovations during GW’s sprawling 2007 Campus Plan. The plan, which also sketched construction for residence halls and the Science and Engineering Hall, put Gelman in a long line of GW priorities.

2009: Chief librarian says GW ignoring Gelman

Jack Siggins, who led Gelman until last summer,

Jack Siggins. Hatchet File Photo

admonished administrators and the Board of Trustees for failing to get specific on when they would begin dealing out funds to upgrade the library. He said library surveys had shown that students were fed up with a lack of study space and electrical outlets – and that Gelman had failed to keep up with GW’s expanded student body. “The senior administration of the University has other priorities,” he said. “This is not one of them.”

Plans for the renovations stalled again later that year because the library fundraising lagged.

The Senior Class Gift celebration. Hatchet File Photo

2010: Students step up to advocate for Gelman funding

Students began pressuring GW to accelerate efforts to refurbish the library – speaking up through student lobbyists, social media and their own wallets. About $31,000 of the money students raised for the Senior Class Gift was doled out to Gelman Library. Students took to Facebook to rally support for new library space, and Student Association leaders declared that advocating for more library funds would be their top priority.

2011: Board of Trustees allocates $16 million for Gelman renovations, blueprints unveiled

Renderings of Gelman renovations sat in the library in 2011. Hatchet File Photo

Gelman’s proposed renovations got an official green light in May 2011 when the Board of Trustees approved $16 million for the project. Administrators said they would pay for half of the project with fundraising dollars, though they would likely borrow and dip into their capital reserve fund to also pay for it.

Provost Steven Lerman said student demand for upgrades helped propel the project forward: “I wasn’t hearing from students or from faculty that we need a vast improvement in the collection. I was hearing the students say ‘We need better study space’ and they’re right. Gelman’s jammed, particularly around finals time.”

In fall 2011, GW revealed that the project would feature a new entrance in Kogan Plaza that would lead students up to the second floor of the building, which then housed administrative offices and event space. The work was done by Cox Graae + Spack Architects.

Gelman Library closed for two days in April due to sweltering heat. Hatchet File Photo by Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

2013: Library continues to fight off funding issues, old age

As renovations to the new entrance floor of Gelman were winding down, the library still faced money woes in 2013. A pair of librarians from University of Virginia and Columbia University consulted on the library’s funding, telling a faculty committee that the library comes up short. Funding for the library’s collections has stayed at about $4 million for a decade.

“Apparently to objective outside observers, Gelman is in really, very bad shape and is in need of attention for funds for collections, as well as for staff, and so on,” English professor David McAleavey said at a Faculty Senate committee meeting in March.

In April, the library faced two days of shutdown, as temperatures inside soared to 90 degrees due to a failed cooling system.

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