New furniture has been arriving at Conn Library on WSC's campus as the multi-year renovation begins to wind down. One of the changes made to the library included computer stations that are more private and have more room to work at, shown here.

Not the first, but the biggest for Conn

Conn Library at Wayne State College has been going through a lot of changes over the past few years, with renovations on every floor, new furniture and new areas for students to enjoy. 

The original building was built in 1954 with it opening to the public in 1956. This building was built in the spot of the president of the college’s house, which Dr. John D. Rice, president of WSC during this time, and his family had to move out of right before the construction of the library. The library was named for U.S. Conn, president of Wayne State College from 1910 to 1935

An addition was built onto the library in 1970. The addition pushed the library building out to the south and would provide room for the reference collection on the main floor, curriculum lab in the basement and book stacks on the second floor. 

The big changes being done now, started in discussions a decade ago.

The original building had significant structural flaws such as electrical, plumbing, mold problems and countless other things.

“The building was in bad shape. It also has a poor layout for accommodating current student needs,” Conn Library Director David Graber said. “Libraries have changed dramatically in the past two decades. We considered tearing the building down and starting over, but initial studies revealed it would be somewhat less expensive to renovate it.”

By 2010, the library building had been identified as the top building priority for the Nebraska State College System, which includes not only Wayne State, but also Peru and Chadron State Colleges too.

“In 2011 we received funding to do a Program Study, which meant hiring an architectural firm (Jackson and Jackson out of Omaha) and creating a Program Study for what we needed to change for the new building.”

This involved bringing in engineers and architects to evaluate the current building, as well as talking with a wide range of campus community members to determine what services the college wanted to offer in the future.

When the college finally had a plan created for them, they needed to secure funding. 

“Securing funding for a project of this size has always been a challenge for Wayne State,” Graber said. “We were fortunate in our timing however. The agricultural economy was booming, and the Nebraska Legislature was feeling a bit more generous than usual.” 

Leadership on campus and the State College Board office made the case for renovating the building. They received an allocation for $12 million in 2013.

With that, most of 2013 was spent finalizing building plans with the architectural and engineering teams. Construction started in the spring of 2014.

The plan for renovation on paper was supposed to take place in four phases, but as the renovation started it was more complicated as phases bended together and into each other.

“We occupied the building throughout the renovation process, moving departments and service from area to area,” Graber said. “Generally speaking, we usually had about three- fourths of the building available to occupy during any given phase.”

Though occupying any building during renovation can increase the difficulty of the project, because heat, electricity and computer networking had to stay online throughout the process.

“This was not a minor cosmetic renovation,” Graber said. “The building was gutted. Only the outer shell remained, along with most of the original concrete floors and stairs. Everything else in the building is new.”

The renovation was a huge project in itself, but in addition to the building, there was substantial sewer and drainage work done in the surrounding area. Costs were estimated at $209 per square foot, with the total cost of the project being around $19 million.

Funds came from the WSC Foundation, the LB309 task forces (tobacco tax money) and the allocation from the Nebraska Legislature.

Since the renovation started in 2014, Conn Library has been opening up finished areas, such as compressed shelving in the basement to the new IRC on the second floor.

The newest sections will be open to the public fairly soon.

“We hope to have everything open by the end of April, although some of the spaces won’t be fully furnished at that time,” Graber said. “Some outdoor work and touch up work will likely continue into late spring or early summer.”

The renovation allowed the college to adapt a new version of library services. 

Conn Library, like most libraries of its time, had been designed primarily as a warehouse for books. Libraries have evolved since then, with online resources and a quiet place to study for students.

“In addition to housing books and providing study spaces, the library will do a better job providing collaborative spaces, creative spaces, and serving as a technology hub,” Graber said. “We knew we needed more private and small group study rooms, as this was the top request we heard from students during our planning sessions.”

The new library has compact shelving in the basement to reduce the amount of floor space required for the books. 

This allowed space for 20 student study rooms, technology labs and classrooms, the new Nordstrand Art Gallery and the Holland Academic Success Center. 

“We also will have a ‘Green Screen’ room for creating video presentations. This room will double as a space where students can practice giving speeches and having their speeches recorded.” 

The Conn Library renovation is a major change to the Wayne State College campus, but it is a change that students and community members can enjoy for a long time.

The Wayne Herald

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