Less than a week before its long-awaited reopening, contractors and staff at the Coral Gables Branch Library were busy refinishing the grand entrance double doors and transferring books from small rolling carts to dust-free bookcases.
Miami-Dade Public Library System Director Ray Baker said the renovation process was at “the end of the line,” with only final touches remaining after two years since the doors closed in April 2021.
The revamped library will reopen on Monday to the public.
The changes included replacing the roof, installing impact-resistant windows and updating the electrical and data wiring system. The library also added new furniture, carpeting, lighting, computers, ample seating options, an updated staff lounge and fully-renovated bathrooms.
Baker said 35% of the books and materials in the library’s collection are now brand new and “fresh out of the box.”
The price tag for the first major renovation to the 1968 building: $6.8 million, according to Baker.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said of the project’s completion. “We know this is a jewel of the county and of Coral Gables, and we would never want to proceed with a project that would do anything that would disrupt a historic building.”
The new interior seeks to adapt to the needs of 21st century library users while also honoring the building’s iconic style.
The library’s dramatic and cavernous lobby shows the melting of two eras. A new quartz slab sits on top of the main service desk’s original, ornate wooden base. The exposed wooden beams, wrought-iron chandeliers and tile floors have been preserved and refined, while contemporary furniture flanks the entrance to the main reading room.
That same theme carries through the rest of the library, with the original and refined wood paneling and bookshelves along the walls, which blend in with the new free-standing stacks.
The furniture has been adapted for modern technology, with power outlets and USB ports built into the tables and seating. That was not the case prior to the renovations. “You had to find a wall plug and maybe hope that your seat was reaching there,” Baker said.
The renovated children’s room includes new bookshelves, bathrooms and computers, and colorful seating underneath tree-like sculptures.
The projected renovations timeline was initially 18 months, but pandemic-related supply chain issues caused delays. The library is still replacing its HVAC system, which is expected to be completed in early 2024.
Some of the library’s artifacts have returned, including the 1930 model of a 17th century Spanish Galleon. Baker noted that transporting some artifacts, like the Galleon, to off-site storage, and getting the appropriate insurance, added to the timeline. Other library artifacts, like the original Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, will be brought back once the HVAC system is up and running, Baker said.
The county also brought in new paintings from its own permanent collection. Other library artwork, like artist Katherine French Pancoast’s 1970 floor-to-ceiling glazed ceramic tile mural, remains.
During the renovation period, the county had been leasing a temporary library location on Miracle Mile. Baker said that the space will officially close at 6 pm on Saturday, and that the lease is set to expire in early July.
Branch manager Brent Capley said the library staff had split between the Miracle Mile location and other county libraries during the closure, and that they were eager to be under the same roof again.