Empty store finds new life as Beloit library
Beloit’s cavernous J.C. Penney department store, with its fluorescent lights and lack of windows, was the antithesis of the sunny space city library staff members envisioned.
But architect Bill Robison and his team at Engberg Anderson Inc., Milwaukee, saw potential in the worn-out retail center. He said rehabilitation of the empty property offered designers the chance to take part in the ultimate recycling project: turning a vacant store into something the entire community could use.
Transforming the old store into a light-filled library was no easy task, however, as significant reconstruction was necessary, Robison said.
“Whenever you repurpose a building, issues come up,” he said.
Of particular concern, he said, was ensuring the floors could handle the significant weight of book stacks.
Allowing sunlight into the building also was a major priority, he said. The store’s exterior took on a new look as large portions of the building were opened up with new, energy-efficient windows and a three-story glass tower marking the library’s entrance.
“We wanted to use as much daylight as possible in the building,” he said, “to not only create an inviting atmosphere, but also cut down on the use of artificial lighting.”
The library also features a unique ice-storage cooling system that makes ice during off-peak hours, such as at night, and then uses the ice to cool the building during the day.
Due to the former store’s excess of space, designers had to come up with a plan for the extra square footage, Robison said. It was a bit of a challenge, he said, but they decided to create unfinished space on the first and second floors that can be used for a library expansion or other city use. Using the site was important to the city because the project offered savings on land acquisition costs.
Completed in April 2009, the new library provides easier access and more space for the community, Robison said. It also serves a key role in a wider redevelopment project of an existing mall for other nonretail purposes.
Though the cost to retrofit the building was about the same as constructing a new library, Robison said, the site delivers a huge economic benefit for the community.
“The library brings a whole new population out to this site, which is on the edge of the downtown,” he said.
“This project is really a catalyst for further growth in the area.”