St. John's alters plan to expand library

April 25, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Confronted with the choice of convenience or history, it's not surprising that the nation's third oldest college should choose history.

Rather than seek changes in Annapolis' historic district code, officials at St. John's College have chosen to redesign the college's new, $6.4 million library.

In planning to convert the former Maryland Hall of Records at the edge of the campus, the college originally proposed adding on to the top of two wings that extend from the center of the building.

The design won preliminary approval from the city's Historic District Commission last year. But when St. John's officials learned the additions would violate the height and bulk restrictions for buildings in the district, they decided to go underground.

"What we have come up with is a sacrifice," said St. John's president, Christopher B. Nelson.

The new design is more complex than the first and will cost the college as much as a half million dollars more, but it has won the blessing of the city's preservationists.

"They bent over backward to make it suitable," said Harrison Sayre, vice chairman of the Historic District Commission, which recently approved the new design.

St. John's officials' decision to preserve the area's historic integrity seems a natural one for the liberal arts college, which traces its roots to King William's School, founded in 1696.

It's curriculum is based on 130 great books of Western civilization.

For its 400 students, the library is the soul of the campus.

"What the library is about is more than a collection of books, but a living room for the campus," said Travis Price, a St. John's alumnus and designer of the new library.

The school's collection of 100,000 books and other materials has outgrown Woodward Hall. Books now must be stacked on movable carts that stand in the aisles, said librarian Kathryn Kinzer.

When work is completed, the library will have twice as much space as the current library and will offer room for the college's collection to grow, she said.

Funding for the project will come from donations and matching grant money, Mr. Nelson said.

Mr. Nelson said school officials were reluctant to give up the views that the above-ground additions would have offered, but the designers have worked to make the underground addition as appealing as possible.

It will be built on a sloping hill, so that while much of it will be underground, one wall will be at street level.

The plans call for extensive landscaping to create a garden-like atmosphere.

Skylights will increase the amount of natural light inside and a patio, plants and walkways will be built on the roof of the addition.

Work is to begin in late summer, and college officials hope the library opening will coincide with the school's 300th anniversary in 1996.

Built in 1934 on land sold to the state by St. John's, the red brick Hall of Records building was the first in the nation designed as a repository for a state's archives.

When the new Hall of Records opened on Rowe Boulevard in 1986, the old building was converted into state offices.

St. John's recently bought the building from the state for $700,000.

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