Hammer time: Library renovation begins by tearing down some walls

The transformation of Richland Library’s Cooper branch is a bright spot for the Forest Acres community, which was devastated by floods that struck the area last October.

On Thursday neighbors gathered to knock down some walls at the Cooper branch, the next step toward revitalizing an important community hub.

Richland Library held a wall-breaking ceremony at the Trenholm Road location in northeast Columbia to prepare for a $3 million renovation of the Cooper branch. The construction project is part of a $59 million bond referendum citizens approved in 2013.

The Richland Library is in the process of transforming each of its 11 branches from mere book repositories to modern centers for information, research and community engagement.

Richland Library Executive Director Melanie Huggins takes a whack at the wall. (Photo by Kelly Petty)

Richland Library Executive Director Melanie Huggins takes a whack at a wall inside the library’s Cooper branch. (Photo by Kelly Petty)

“Our libraries have not changed to meet the technological age,” said Richland County Councilman Greg Pearce, whose district includes Forest Acres. “All of these renovations will bring the library well into the 21st century.”

“Every library in the system will get something,” Pearce added. “Some will get a tweak and some will get a big bang. But everybody is getting something.”

Plans call for the library to receive an additional 2,000 square feet of space to house a quiet reading room, an interactive children’s space, a family restroom and a nursing mother’s room. An outdoor patio space for movie nights and other activities will be another of the library’s new features.

“We’re excited,” said Branch Manager Heather Green. “From here on out, construction begins now.”

The Cooper branch was spared during last October’s floods because it was positioned above the floodplain, but residents were thrilled about the changes to the space that they championed.

“Anytime you can take an existing facility and improve upon it and make it better for the entire community, it’s a really good thing,” said Hall Gladden, president of the Forest Acres Neighborhood Association. “Once it’s completed, it will pay back the entire community because you’ll have people of every walk of life coming through the doors using this library.”

Richland Library staff celebrate the wall breaking at the Cooper branch. (Photo courtesy of Richland Library)

Richland Library staff celebrate the wall breaking at the Cooper branch. (Photo courtesy of Richland Library)

The added space hopefully means more books and more space for kids, said Satchel Ford Elementary School fourth-grader Savannah Busby.

“I think it’s going to be cool that (little) brothers and sisters aren’t going to bother you and they can just go to the children’s area,” she laughed.

The Cooper branch closed its doors in February. Books, equipment and other materials already have been removed from the building. Demolition and construction will continue through the summer and is expected to be completed next year.

“This is a neighborhood that has time and time again shown its love for this library system and it uses it heavily,” said Melanie Huggins, executive director of the Richland Library. “Even though they seem to be back to normal, there’s that emotional stress that’s there.

“They want to get on and they want to be that happy, connected community again — and we are,” Huggins said. “That’s what a library does. It brings a community together.”

Progress photos, renderings and information about the Cooper branch can be found at buildingyourlibrary.com.


Categories: Local News, Richland County