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Wilson College Plans an Overhaul for Library Closed by Leaks

Wilson College library expansion west elevation

Wilson College’s 1925 library has been closed for more than a year, but the college has been working with Murray Associates Architects to plan a renovation that would keep the 1925 portion (at left) and replace a 1962 addition with a glass-walled structure. (Murray Associates image)

WIlson College library doorwayChambersburg, Pa. — For such a small institution—it has only 695 students this semester—Wilson College has a very handsome library. It’s a restrained Collegiate Gothic building from 1925 with limestone towers flanking a central doorway and arched windows overlooking the college’s central green. The windows also enliven the interior, which is otherwise plain.

Unfortunately, the library has been closed for more than a year, thanks to an assortment of leaks that are emblematic of the challenges facing the struggling women’s college, which has not been able to meet its enrollment goals. The most serious of the leaks involved steam from the heating system that was escaping from badly corroded pipes into walls and floors. When Wilson’s new president, Barbara K. Mistick, arrived just over a year ago from Pittsburgh, where she had been head of the public-libraryWilson College library mezzanine system, she found students using a temporary library in a former coffee shop, and library-staff members trekking to the old building and its 1962 annex whenever someone wanted to check out a book.

Now, though, Ms. Mistick has appointed a commission of faculty members, students, trustees, and alumnae to recommend ideas for assuring the college’s future. At the same time, the college has been planning a $12-million library renovation with Murray Associates Architects, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Preliminary drawings call for replacing the 1962 annex with a big, glass-walled addition that would house not only book stacks but also library offices, a cafe, a store, a lounge for commuter students, and an art gallery. Kathleen Murphy, the library’s director, says the idea is that the light-filled addition will be “noisy—it will be a hub of activity,” while the renovated original building ”will be all heads-down study area.”

The new addition, which will be surrounded by paved plazas, will have entrances on several sides and will present a much livelier facade to the college’s busy 2009 science center, which currently faces the drab 1962 structure. Ms. Murphy says the college considered keeping the current annex, but its low poured-concrete ceilings make reusing it impractical.

She also says her staff has been paring down the collection from 17,000 linear feet to about 11,000 linear feet—in part because digital resources allow the college to dispose of runs of old journals as well as damaged volumes that are now available online in the public domain. “It would be wasteful to move and store material that we would just throw out eventually,” she says.

Wilson College library expansion floor planThe plan for the first floor calls for plenty of study space in both the old and new portions of the building. The square area in the lower left would be open to the ground floor, which would house a cafe and a commuter lounge. An art gallery would be located on the second floor. (Murray Associates image; Chronicle photographs by Lawrence Biemiller)

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