State legislators, architects, donors and board members of the Enoch Pratt Free Library filled the lobby of the central library Wednesday to mark the groundbreaking of its renovation and restoration project.
The $115 million project at the Central Library/State Library Resource Center will create more meeting spaces and a new teen and young-adult wing. Officials say they want to balance new technology with the library's historical collections, which date to the fifth century, to position the building as a statewide resource for generations to come.
"This building is going to get a heart and lung transplant, with a little Botox," said Enoch Pratt CEO Carla B. Hayden. "It will look just as historic and beautiful, but it will have the latest and the greatest."
Renovations to the building that welcomes a half-million visitors each year will include more public computers, a career center and an expanded children's department.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said libraries create an equal opportunity to resources and that the renovations would enable the Pratt, which is known for being the first U.S. library to cater to young adults and teens, to remain a national leader in library innovation.
"The great thing about the Enoch Pratt Library is that it continually reinvents itself," Rawlings-Blake said.
Baltimore businessman Enoch Pratt opened the doors of the country's first free library system in 1886. The central location, at 400 Cathedral St., opened in 1933.
The building's lighting was updated in the 1950s, and an $11 million annex that opened in 2003 allowed the library to house an African-American history collection. The library system has spent nearly $40 million in the past decade updating six city branches.
The renovation project celebrated Wednesday was 20 years in the making, Hayden said. Sandra Vicchio, the library's consulting architect, said the changes will allow visitors to find what they are looking for by organizing content by its user group, such as the teen wing or children's department.
Vicchio is charged with maintaining the library's historic feel amid the technology upgrades. Hayden said it will remain a statewide resource for historic materials, complete with a central hall that she envisions becoming a town hall-like meeting space.
"Libraries were the original search engine," Hayden said. "People have always come to libraries for information."
Hayden has led the Pratt library system for 23 years. President Barack Obama nominated her to lead the Library on Congress in February, and she awaits a confirmation vote in the Senate.
If confirmed, she would be the first African-American and first woman in that position. Fortune magazine named her one of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders in 2016.
The state is funding $93 million of the project. The city is providing $5 million, with the rest of the money coming from donations. Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford said $28 million in contracts has been awarded to minority businesses.
Work began on the second floor in early June, said John Rota, a senior manager with Gilbane Building Co. Employees from the construction management company worked with specialty contractors to complete a video and photographic survey to maintain the building's historic nature.
"The biggest challenge is renovating a building that's still open to the public," Rota said. He said about 100 contractors will work on the project.
Library stacks will be moved and entrances could change, but the building will be open throughout the renovation, Hayden said. The project is expected to be finished by 2018.