Renovated Library Mixes the Modern with the Past
By Kendall Fedor (09/12/2012)

With an ever-increasing student body, San Francisco State University (SFSU) saw the need to expand its facilities in a big way — with a 362,500-square-foot project.

The J. Paul Leonard and Sutro Library, originally constructed in three phases between 1953 and 1971, received a $103.8 million facelift from Balfour Beatty Construction and HMC Architects. The project hit the table in 2002, construction began in 2008 and the ribbon was cut this year.

Balfour Beatty and HMC Architects were in charge of budgeting preconstruction, establishing a guaranteed maximum price and delivering the project within the scheduled time frame. Balfour Beatty was one of three teams short-listed for the project in 2007. Budget issues, a constrained site, occupied facilities during construction, seismic upgrades and a facility built during multiple decades combined with a limited checkbook to create a more difficult project for both firms.

“The task for our design team was to take all of those structures and bring them current. Going in to this structure and doing all of this selective demolition and removing structural elements to put in new structures and new shear walls and new columns. Doing all that and keeping the building’s structural integrity in shape was the biggest challenge,” said Brian Cahill, executive vice president of operations. “However, we never gave up. We kept going at it and kept looking at it from every possible angle we could. We kept fighting and working to find solutions,” he said.

The two-phase design project included renovations for seismic reinforcement of the library, with concrete shear walls around the perimeter on corners and bonded fiber reinforced plastic strips throughout existing concrete slabs.

Phase I included construction of the 60,000-square-foot west addition while Phase II included constructing a 20,000-square-foot North addition, as well as renovating the 282,500-square-foot existing library.

The university only served 13,000 full-time equivalent students during the 1970s, when the library was first built, but now enrolls about 22,000, according to Simon Lam, associate vice president for capital planning, design and construction.

“How people have used the building has changed, from quiet study to a really open dialogue,” said Lam in regards to the need for renovation. In addition to a student increase, the layout of the original library was cramped and confusing.

“People would get lost in the building; at one point the librarian had to put tape on the floor to guide people to the main spaces,” Lam added.

The facility’s new design increases the number of seats from 1,200 to 3,000 and adds six instructional spaces, more than 250 public computers, 18 group study rooms, 12 editing rooms, two 24-hour labs and the crowning jewel: a Library Retrieval System (LRS).

The LRS at SFSU is one of only four in the California State University System; the other three are located at Sonoma State, Long Beach and Northridge. The system takes up three floors in the library’s West addition and is made up of five double rows of bins reaching 36 feet tall. The system holds up to 1.5 million volumes and saves 50,000 square feet of space.

“The way that it works is when somebody requests a book, the machine will grab a book and bring it to the stations where someone will check it out,” said Lam. “Then, at the same time, you toss a book into it since the machine will remember so it doesn’t always have to go to the same spot. Eventually the most used books will be near the front and the less used will be in the back.”

Some of the design challenges that HMC and Balfour Beatty faced with existing structure included leaving the core of the building — elevators, restrooms, etc. — and finding ways to make the space seem larger.

“This building has such a huge floor plate, and it’s an existing building so the floor-to-ceiling height is really low. The challenge for the design team was, ‘How do you design the space so that you will feel adequate?’” said Lam.

The solution was staggered ceilings, in which covered sections were removed every few feet to allow for a higher floor-to-ceiling height ratio. In addition, two-story open spaces situated throughout the building along the north wall bring natural light through windows.

“The university was quite daring in their persistence to create an abundance of reading spaces and environments that nurture social interaction, and clear circulation paths to other functions of library services. We were able to replace the redundant staircases with usable floor area and moved the vertical circulation outside the building volume,” said Julia Hughes, associate principal for HMC Architects.

Other expansions included removing an outdoor patio from the main entrance, renovating the plaza where the library stands and creating a streamline from one end of the campus to the other. According to Lam, the newly opened space encourages students to the library without shutting the space away from the campus.

A large challenge for the project was a 75-day shut down that went from Jan. 5, 2009 to March 20, 2009. A lot of temporary systems had to be shut down and everyone on the project demobilized, while still protecting the contents of the building and holding the budget.

Funding Issues Cause Delays

A 75-day shutdown from Jan. 5, 2009 to March 20, 2009, caused by State funding issues, presented a big challenge for the project. Many temporary systems had to be shut down and everyone on the project demobilized, while still protecting the contents of the building and holding the budget.

“The university had this curve ball thrown at them and we were able to, because it was design-build, mitigate the costs and figure out a way to ramp it down and be prepared to ramp it up as quickly as possible without hitting the project with a ton of additional costs,” said Cahill.

“You always have complications with a project of this complexity but we completed the project on budget, without litigation, and five months ahead of schedule, despite a three-month project shut-down due to lack of State funding,” said Hughes. “Finishing early allowed the University to begin moving in and the students and faculty to begin enjoying the facility sooner than expected.”

Funding for the project came from 2002 California Higher Education Bonds that all CSUs use for specific projects. Voters must agree on what the funding is used for; in the case of this project, the money was used for seismic retrofitting, upgrading mechanical systems and the new additions.

With construction lasting four years, students, faculty and staff were still able to access library content.

Library services remained available during construction, though the building was shut down. The collections were kept in the library inside a box inside to protect the books. Collection areas around the campus, as well as certain parts of the library, remained open so students, faculty and staff could still retrieve and use resources.

The project earned HMC Architects and Balfour Beatty the 2012 Project of the Year award from the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA)- Western Pacific Region. This is the first time Balfour Beatty has won project of the year in the regional category. The company also won a national award for the project with DBIA, which will be revealed in November. The DBIA is a membership organization founded to advocate and advance single-source project delivery within the construction and design community.

“The renovated and expanded university library is a tremendous asset for the entire campus community. The design enhances the student experience, providing much needed space for the collaborative learning process,” said Robert A. Corrigan, SFSU president.


Facility Name: San Francisco State University J. Paul Leonard and Sutro Libraries

Type: University Campus Library

Construction Budget: $126 million

Start Date: April 2008

Completion Date: March 2012

Area: 362,500 Gross Square Feet (GSF)

Owner/Operator: California State University

Project Manager: Simon Lam, Capital Planning, Design & Construction

Architect: HMC Architects

Construction Manager: SFSU, Capital Planning, Design & Construction

General Contractor: Balfour Beatty Construction

Structural Engineer: Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger

Mechanical Engineer: Shadpour Consultant Engineering

Lighting Design: LPG Engineering


Millwork - Solid Surfacing: Pionite, Avonite

Cabinets: Formica

Acoustical Ceilings: Armstrong

Ceramic Tile: Dal Tile, Hanwha

Resilient Tile Flooring: Mannington, Norament Luxor, Johnsonite

Door Hardware: Ingersoll Rand, Ives, Von Duprin, Schlage, LCN, Pemko

Interior Wood Doors: Maiman

Aluminum Doors & Frames: Western Integrated Materials

Aluminum Storefront: Arcadia

Automatic Entrances: Besam

Elevator: Ascent Elevator Services

Insulation: Knauf Insulation

Plumbing: American Standard

Roofing: Johns Manville

Glass/Glazing: PPG Industries

Curtainwall System: Bagatelos Architectural Glass Systems

Plastic Glazing: 3form

Wallcovering Custom Graphics: Koroseal

Wall Panels: Custom Metal Fabrications, Marlite

Acoustic Wall Panels: Wall Technology

Wall Paint: Dunn Edwards, Benjamin Moore, ICI

Carpet: C&A, Crossley

Indoor Lighting: Le Klint, Corelite, Cooper, Spectrum

Fire/Life Safety Systems: Simplex Grinnell, Smoke Guard Inc.

Fire Extinguisher: Larsen’s Manufacturing Co., Badger Fire Protection

Security Systems: Simplex Grinnell

Locks: Schlage

Drinking Fountains: Haws

Washroom Accessories: Bobrick

Washroom Fixtures: American Standard

Automated Document Retrieval System: HK Systems

HVAC Units: Alliance, Carrier, Bard, York, Greenheck

HVAC Control Devices: Automated Logic, Belimo Aircontrols, Dwyer, Veris, Onicon

Draperies/Blinds: Mecho Shade

Signage: Innerface Sign Systems

Quick Facts:

  • Whiteboards are walls in individual study area in labs

  • Entrance from 19th and Holloway

  • Entire north wall are windowpanes

  • Seismic corners

  • Wireless throughout the whole building

  • Peet’s Coffee

  • LRS has capacity for 1.5 million volumes

  • LRS takes about three to five minutes

  • Only four CSU campuses have LRS

  • Ceramic dots in the glass for diffused light and energy

LEED Equivalent Aspects:

  • Elimination of waste and debris, reduction in consumption of resources

  • Low e-glazing (maximizes natural lighting and minimizes heat gain and loss)

  • Recycling of materials (concrete and metals)

  •  Computerized heating and ventilation systems

  • Plastic laminate in solid surfacing

  • Plastic glazing included a 40 percent pre-construction recycle content

  • Ceramic tile includes 39 percent pre-consumer and 1.5 percent post-consumer recycled content

  • Saline tile almost 50 percent recycled content

  • Suspension system was local regional 10 percent post-consumer recycled content

  • Carpet included 37 and 34 percent pre-consumer recycled content

  • VCT 10 percent post-consumer recycled content

Floor Breakdown:

  • Ground Floor- Study Commons, quiet study rooms, digitization services, accessible technology commons, media and equipment distribution, LRS

  • First Floor- Book checkout and pickup, research commons, events room, new book browsing, Friends of the Library Booksale room, café

  • Second Floor- Academic technology/library, unified service model, video conference rooms, online teaching and learning, instructional labs, faculty and student digital media studios, group study area, faculty commons

  • Third Floor- Collections, Reference, Government Documents, Periodicals, Open stacks, quiet study areas

  • Special Collections and archives, young people’s collection, gallery, faculty/graduate reading room, quiet study areas, open stacks

  • Floors Five and Six- Branch of California State Library

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