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First floor of Gelman Library to be renovated

Gelman Library will be closed Saturday Jan. 30 from 1 to 9 a.m. for construction. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor
Gelman Library will be closed Saturday Jan. 30 from 1 to 9 a.m. for construction. Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

Winston Churchill is increasing student space in Gelman Library — or at least his books are.

Gelman Library’s first floor will undergo renovations as early as this fall to accommodate the former British leader’s writings, research and memorabilia, University Librarian Geneva Henry said in an interview last month. She also said the improvements to the lower floors will increase the amount of space available to students in the library.

“The first floor is kind of a dingy area. This is a way to breathe life into the space,” Henry said.

The renovated first floor will create display space for the collection and add space for student or University-hosted events, Henry said. The spaces will be available for students to use when events are not being held.

The first floor, a level below the entrance, currently houses bound journals and has group study space but lacks windows.

Upgrading Gelman has been a priority for Henry — she called on officials to upgrade the library’s aging technology labs last year. Consultants reviewed the library in 2013 and called it subpar for research.

University President Steven Knapp said in an interview he has pushed for further renovations to the library over the last several years. The changes started in 2012 by moving the entrance to Kogan Plaza from H Street, which he said made it more “welcoming” for students and “impressive.” That renovation cost $16 million and also included upgrading the new entrance floor, adding an outdoor patio, and installing new computers and a multimedia center.

“I feel now it really is part of the campus,” Knapp said, adding that renovating the library was also a priority for students.

Henry said administrators submitted blueprints and construction plans this summer to Ayers Saint Gross, an architecture firm that has remodeled parts of the Mount Vernon Estate, and the University is waiting for the city to approve the plans. She said construction would ideally be completed by spring or summer of 2016.

“We have gone out for permits to the city. That is the biggest wild card because we depend upon the city’s timeline,” Henry said.

GW formed a partnership with The Churchill Centre in 2011, which agreed to contribute $8 million toward the space, which is the first research center dedicated to Winston Churchill in the United States, and to create an endowed professorship. The space was slated to be renovated for the collection between 2013 and 2015, and The Churchill Centre contributed an additional $2 million for construction. Henry declined to comment on how much the renovations to the first floor would cost overall.

Librarians have already been busy moving journals from downstairs to other floors and sending less-commonly accessed materials to local storage facilities in preparation, Henry said. The Corcoran Collection will remain on the first floor after construction.

Henry said officials will take students’ studying needs into account when creating the time frame for construction and will be conscious of students’ needs for quiet while working in the library.

“If it were to come in right after Thanksgiving, we wouldn’t start the next week during finals,” Henry said.

Development of a center shaped around the life achievements of Churchill, who served as Prime Minister of Britain through the extent of World War II, aligns with the University’s 10-year strategic plan, which focuses on interdisciplinary collaboration.

“There are definitely stories to tell here,” Henry said. “The collection is really focused on highlighting Churchill both as a global leader and the other multifaceted aspects of his life.”

Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.

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