New Vinton Library Project Gets Imaginative Feedback

Diana Rosapepe listens to a suggestion from the audience.
Diana Rosapepe listens to a suggestion from the audience.

Bolstered by a $700,000 downtown revitalization grant, the Town of Vinton is making moves to revamp its downtown area. Central to this effort is the proposed construction of a new Vinton Public Library to serve as its hub. Roanoke County officials, project architects and concerned citizens met recently to discuss what they’d like to see at the new library.

Roanoke County Public Libraries Director Diana Rosapepe said that while recent projects such as the South County Library near Cave Spring have more of a suburban setting, the Vinton branch would be more of an urban library, due to its location in the midst of downtown Vinton where Dunman’s Floral Supply on Pollard St. currently stands. HBM Architects, working with the town and Roanoke County on the project, would create a library that is “unique … and responds to the needs of the community,” according to Rosapepe. A good part of Roanoke County’s aim, she said, is conceptualizing how the library could help small businesses in Vinton’s downtown.

HBM Architects, based out of Cleveland, has worked with Roanoke County since 2006 when they began developing the building program for the South County library. At present they are also working on the Glenvar library, which will open soon. The firm specializes in library design and at the recent public meeting (at the Vinton War Memorial), architect James Shook gave all present a taste of their past projects.

The past designs run the gamut in terms of design aspects. Children’s areas have been inspired by everything from Etch-A-Sketches to collaborating with a children’s author, to design murals that “are like walking into [a] book,” said Shook. The Dexter District Library in Dexter, MI has large windows that open onto a public park, while their branch library in Warrensville Heights, OH features technological amenities such as interactive-learning Smart Boards and a recording studio.

Shook highlighted that the yellow-exterior of Doylestown Branch Library, constructed in a town similar to Vinton, took on local flavor in its design: “Its inspiration came from colorful buildings in the surrounding neighborhood.”

HBM Design principal Peter Bolek revealed that two of the firms architects’ wives are current librarians – and his mother was also a librarian, said that he hoped their past projects would inspire the crowd to give them feedback on what they’d like to see at the proposed 20,000 square foot library, estimated to cost around $9 million and scheduled for construction some time within the next decade.

When pressed to tell the architects face-to-face what they’d like to see in a library, the audience was quick to respond with a plethora of ideas. Barbara Perdue of Vinton stated that she liked private tutoring rooms like she had seen in HBM’s presentation and that Vinton’s current library is “always full of people tutoring.”

Rosapepe pointed out that the tutoring rooms at the South County Library have been used over 13,000 times since the library’s opening. Others suggested a teen room and said that they’d like to see book lockers for drop-off and pick-up akin to those at South County also brought to Vinton. Assistant County Administrator Richard Caywood noted that he had been to the current Vinton library and seen a huge demand for computer labs.

Charlie Ellis of the Charity Cottage Thrift Store, located right across from the area specified for the library, felt that adding green space was imperative. “There’s too much asphalt there at this time,” he said, saying that he’d like to see something similar to a New England town commons. Town Councilmember Doug Adams suggested a patio on the roof to go with the elevated side of the building area and the possible addition of a coffee shop going out into an outdoor area.

The crowd also didn’t shy away from specifying what they didn’t want in the design. Doug Forbes of Vinton specified that he didn’t desire to see something “towering” or highly elevated; “What I don’t want is a space station in the middle of downtown,” making a crack at the design of Roanoke City’s Taubman Art Museum. In general, the crowd appeared to agree that they’d like to see a storefront library that opens onto the streets of downtown Vinton.

While the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors has approved funds for the design phase of the library, the decision still remains on whether to fund the construction. Outgoing Vinton supervisor Mike Altizer closed the meeting with a recounting of what he called “his own personal eye-opener” in regards to what the library could provide.

“As I was I was looking at the site with [Assistant County Administrator] Richard Caywood, I looked up and could see the mountains around,” Altizer said; “I started to think about a small downtown park that would get more kids and families downtown. We have a great and keen opportunity here. Go down there yourself, visualize and dream. You hold the key, you hold the answer.” Two more public meetings are set for later in the year with the first tentatively set for May 16th.

By Aaron Layman