Pitt plans to renovate Hillman Library


Hillman Library will be closed for a massive renovations starting in May 2017. Stephen Caruso | Online Visual Editor

By Tristan Dietrick / Staff Writer

What began as a project to replace outdated mechanical systems in Hillman Library has now turned into a plan for a full-scale building renovation.

Hillman Library, built in 1968, is set to undergo extensive renovations beginning in May 2017. The project could take up to five years and will operate year-round, but the library will remain open throughout the process, according to Owen Cooks, assistant vice chancellor for planning, design and construction at Pitt. Cooks said that the construction team is looking to finish the project as quickly as possible, but since the materials need to be analyzed floor-by-floor and ordered, it could take a while.

Tentatively, the changes scheduled include replacing mechanical systems — such as heating and air-conditioning — increasing study space by putting books into storage, improving lighting, adding outlets, enhancing technological abilities — such as further-reaching wireless connection — and an expanded cafe. PJ Dick is the construction management firm for the renovations.

According to Cooks, the renovation team will submit a proposal in late spring to the Board of Trustees, which must approve the project. There is no final cost for the project yet.

The project is going to work from the top down, beginning on the fourth floor and working its way to the ground floor. According to Cooks, only the floor undergoing renovation at any given time will be closed.

“We started looking at it a couple years ago,” Cooks said. “But design really began in earnest a few months ago, of really sizing the right systems and designing and coming up with the phasing strategy to make sure that would work.”

Cooks said the project began during discussions to replace the library’s outdated mechanical systems, but the extent of the construction — which will include removing all of the ceilings, floors and ductwork to gain access to the mechanical structures in the building — called for re-evaluation.

“When we get to a point like that in any given building, we often pause to go to the users and say, ‘Are there things that you need to change?’” Cooks said.

Fern Brody, interim director of the University Library System, is leading an advisory group comprised of students and faculty, on the renovation. She’s also set up a website to help communicate renovation plans as they become more definite.

“We [know] people are [studying] on the floor sometimes,” Brody said. “We needed a variety of spaces: spaces where people can work together, spaces where people can work quietly. Our specialized spaces are very popular, so we needed to expand them.”

Molly Purcell, a junior international student majoring in urban studies, said she would like to see improved lighting in the library.

“I feel like, especially downstairs [on the ground floor] and on the fourth floor, it feels very yellow-lit, which can make you go a bit crazy if you’re stuck there for too long,” Purcell said.

Nathaniel Flick, a junior natural sciences major who uses the library every day, said he’d like to see more quiet study rooms added to the renovated library.

“There are a lot of tables here, a lot of space here, but only like three or four or so quiet rooms,” Flick said. “Finding a space in those quiet rooms is an important thing, at least for me.”

In addition to improvements, the project will expand the cafe and update the technology, the latter of which will be planned through a partnership with Pitt’s Computing Services and Systems Development.

According to Brody, some of the library’s book collections will be moved into secure, climate-controlled storage space, but none of the collection will be lost.

To accommodate students throughout the renovations, the provost office is looking at alternate study spaces around campus, according to Kristin Gusten, senior director of administration.

Though there is undoubtedly concern that the renovation project will be a disruption to students’ studies — drills buzzing, hammers banging in a designated quiet space on campus — Flick said he’s optimistic.

“In the end, I think it’d be a worthwhile endeavor as long as accommodations are made,” Flick said.

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