The Helmke Library at Indiana University - Purdue University Fort Wayne will become a hard hat zone – literally – at the end of December when a $10 million, year-long upgrade of the facility gets underway.

With carefully planned staging, the library’s services will be available the entire time, even as floors, walls and ceilings are opened up and/or replaced. But students and faculty members will no longer have direct access to the stacks on the upper floors. Instead, librarians and student staffers will don hard hats and construction vests and make a couple trips daily to retrieve the materials requested.

To make sure no one falls through a floor or stumbles on construction materials, “there will be paths, risk-free, for them to follow,” said Dean Cheryl Truesdell. “We’re taking a lot of precautions. Contractors know it has to be safe.”

The stacks will be covered by plastic or tarps to protect them from construction dust. Zippers or some other sort of opening will be provided to allow access to the books beneath, she added.

When the library was built in the 1960s, it was essentially “a warehouse for books,” Truesdell said. That was before laptops, before students relied on multiple devices and needed more power and faster networks. The building couldn’t handle that demand without a major infrastructure upgrade.

In the biennial budget, before the current one, the Indiana General Assembly appropriated $21 million for improvements to two buildings at IPFW, the library and Kettler Hall. It was only half the amount the university requested, but the school had to make do with what it got and divide the funds between the two projects.

More than 80 percent of the Helmke funds will go toward badly needed infrastructure upgrades, Truesdell said. The heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, which is so old that parts are no longer available, will be replaced completely. A new electrical system will boost the power available and provide more outlets, especially in study areas. An all new network, including wireless access points, will be installed; and the fire protections systems will be upgraded.

Beyond that, the library is also making some architectural changes, chief among them the construction of an open staircase linking the first and second floors and creating a learning commons, new group and study spaces, presentation practice rooms, concierge desks and a writing center.

“We’re hoping that connector sort of brings together all of the services that we provide with our partners,” Truesdell said. “A student can get the same service on first floor as the second.”

Before deciding how to manage the construction project, discussion took place about whether to keep the library open and have contractors work around it, or to essentially vacate the building and let the contractors do what they had to do. The work-around option was quickly dismissed.

“We decided it was really better for students. It would be so noisy and so disruptive, students could not be expected to study,” Truesdell said.

Moving out for the duration also reduced the time contractors would need to get the work done.

A temporary library services office will be created in a 2,000 square-foot area, just inside the front door, and the 24/77 computer lab now there will be moved to Neff Hall.

Helmke also has reference librarians assigned to specific department and subject areas, such as education, business etc. Where ever possible, they will be relocated to the same buildings where those departments are housed.

“I think some of those departments are going to say, ‘We don’t want them to go back. We want them to stay here.’ I hope I get them back when this is over,” Truesdell said.

Students can request materials electronically, and then pick them up at the library services center later. The library also increased its collection of ebooks in anticipation of the project, and those are available online through any computer on or off campus.

“The students are not as concerned about getting material they need – they know we’ll take care of that. They’re more interested in where they are going to study, because the library is a major study hub,” Truesdell said.

The fall semester ends Dec. 18, and the library will remain open through Dec. 19. It will close Dec. 20 so contractors can move in and begin work during the semester break. Weigand Construction is the general contractor.

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