Central Michigan University proposed the construction of a new library building in the fall of 1965 to replace the existing facilities, which were constructed in 1956 and which were increasingly inadequate for the growing campus community. That building, which eventually became Ronan Hall, was renamed the Charles V. Park Library in 1965 after the late head of Central’s library (pictured at left), who came to Central in 1931 after serving as the Assistant Librarian at Stanford University for fifteen years.
Plans for a new library, to be constructed near Brooks Hall on Preston and Franklin Streets and facing east, were compiled with the help of consultant Dr. G. Flint Purdy of Wayne State University. Roger Allen and Associates of Grand Rapids served as the designing architect, with assistance in site-planning from Daverman Associates of Grand Rapids.
Construction bids for the project were awarded to the Miller Davis Company of Kalamazoo, who agreed to build the structure for $4.282 million. The project was financed by the Michigan State Legislature and federal funds from the Higher Education Facilities Act of 1963. The bid was significantly lower than expected, and many students and faculty unsuccessfully petitioned the University to use the remaining funds to purchase additional library materials.
Groundbreaking took place in the fall of 1967. Construction was hampered by strikes among five unions working on this and other projects around campus. The cornerstone contained a time capsule that included Richard Nixon’s inaugural address and a report on the war in Vietnam written by Dean Rusk, Secretary of State.
Moving books from the old library, now Ronan Hall
Although originally expected to open in the fall of 1968, students and faculty did not begin to use the new structure until January 1969. Workers were still finishing the project when the building was opened. For example, a marble staircase had yet to be installed upon the opening of the library, as the first staircase shattered during delivery from Italy. A private moving company, assisted by library staff and student workers, used specially built wheeled shelving units to move more than 600,000 items from the old library into the new building.
The design of the new library was based on guidelines from the American Library Association for academic libraries, with classrooms and staff working areas located around the outer halls of the building with the center areas reserved for stacks and study areas. The interior design featured color-coordinated, carpeted floors and bookshelves with ends finished in a dark wood paneling. There were carrels, or private study booths, for undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty use. Microfilm readers were located on each floor and the new technology of microfilm reader printers was also available.
When it opened, the new Charles V. Park Library contained 180,000 square feet over four floors, an increase from the 65,000 square feet in the previous library. The new building could house over half a million volumes, doubling the library’s capacity for storage. There was room for the relocation of the library sciences department and A/V services and instruction. Additionally, the Clarke Historical Library was relocated to the fourth floor of the new library, where a vault would house the most valuable books and manuscripts in the collection. The library was serviced by four separate parking lots located to the west of the building. Importantly, the building was designed with future expansion in mind. Although the new library represented a dramatic increase in both space and accessibility, plans for further growth would allow Park Library to remain a hub of research and study for Central students for decades.
Renovation: Preparing the Library for the 21st Century
Indeed, by the 1990s, students, faculty, and administrators at CMU recognized the need for expanded library facilities and services. By this point, the existing library was far too small to house its collections, let alone accommodate the students who would access it. Reference materials had been moved to extra space in Finch Fieldhouse, and the old building had little room for improvements, like the addition of computer stations. By 1995, a substantial expansion had been proposed and renovations to the Park Library became the number one priority for State appropriations requests from the University. Plans for a new library, and the funds with which it would be built, were approved by the State in 1997.
Construction during the Park Library renovation
The addition to Park Library was designed by URS Greiner Woodward Clyde, Inc. of Grand Rapids, and Woolen, Molzan, and Partners of Indianapolis. The firms solicited input from the campus community on both the aesthetic and practical designs for the new library. The final plans called for an addition that would add 125,000 square feet to the existing structure and more than double its capacity for both volumes and students. The total cost of the project reached $50 million and the Christman Company of Lansing was awarded the construction contract.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held in April 1999, and by that summer, work was fully underway. Plans called for the addition of new space, a complete renovation of the third and fourth floors, and significant remodeling of the first and second floors. A path that led from the University Center to Library Drive was shifted to the west and enlarged. Additionally, the parking lot between the library and Foust Hall was enlarged and a sculpture that sat near the old library was relocated.
Interior of the renovated Park Library, ca. 2003
The new Charles V. Park Library officially opened on January 9, 2002. The building contained 205,526 square feet of usable space, over 400 public computer workstations, and 1,500 network connections. Housed on the 33 miles of shelving were over a million volumes, and there was enough seating for 3,500 students. A large, multimedia-equipped lecture hall created an ideal spot for visiting speakers. The Clarke Historical Library also got a new home on the first floor across the hallway from the main library. In 2012, the library celebrated the ten year anniversary of its opening after the expansion, which represented the largest construction project to date for the University.