Library opens completed Learning Commons


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The Iowa City community can now enjoy a brand-new study environment open 24 hours of the day — furnished with a new café, walls that double as white boards, interactive electronic displays, and more.

But the new space won’t be found at an eclectic coffee shop.

Instead, it’s inside a 1952-built library on the University of Iowa campus.

The Main Library Learning Commons will open on schedule today. The opening of the commons marks the completion of the first of a three-phase renovation to the university’s largest library complex.

Under construction since November 2011, university officials expect the final two stages to be completed by the end of the fall semester.

Christopher Clark, the director of ITS Learning Spaces, emphasized the variety of study spaces now available.

“It’s a really flexible space,” he said. “Students can do a whole lot of things here.”

In all, the $14.5 million, 37,000-square-foot area includes study spaces for 700 students, an expanded Food for Thought Café, and a new 45-seat TILE classroom.

The original price tag was $14.6 million.

To date, the space contains 100 computers and 18 group-study rooms, dry-erase walls, and mounted screens into which students can plug their laptops for demonstrations.

With the exception of Friday and Saturday nights, the space will operate on a 24-hour cycle, including around the clock research and basic computer aid.

Clark originally presented the project’s details to the UI Student Government at a general Senate meeting in 2011.

During that meeting, original plans called for 20 private-group study areas, 150 desktop computers, in addition to the TILE classroom, café and space for more than 500 students.

Clark said that all of the new technological features have presented a daunting challenge for support staff, largely due to their around-the-clock availability, which makes software updates and other maintenance more difficult.

The Daily Iowan has previously reported that when the commons opened for the beginning of the school year, a majority of the computer and electronic installations would not be fully completed until the end of the fall semester; however, on the opening day, most of them will be up and running. 

Kristi Bontrager, the public-relations manager for the University Libraries, said the project managers deserve credit for the timely completion of phase one of the project, finished by the first day of classes despite various setbacks.

One of the most unanticipated obstacles of the project involved the uncovering of a concrete floor originally constructed in the 1950s. The floor didn’t meet modern construction standards and had begun to break apart on the surface.

“The contractors had to remove all the concrete and pour new concrete,” Bontrager said. “That was a huge added project.”

Despite the setback, officials were able to finish the floor over spring break.

Enthusiastic about the updated café, Bontrager said the new menu includes made-in-house panini sandwiches, fruit smoothies, and a variety of coffee drinks.

“It’s a really wonderful space … as well as really good coffee,” Bontrager said.

Following the opening of the new area, the library’s north door will be closed as phase two of the project begins. The area where the information desk was previously located will be updated to match the look of the Learning Commons.

In a June 18 email statement, Facilities Management Strategic Communications Manager Wendy Moorehead said the portion of the fifth floor undergoing renovation is on schedule to be completed in July 2013.

According to Facilities Management, future Main Library plans include the renovation of 18,000 square feet on the building’s fifth floor in housing displaced library staff from the Learning Commons construction. Preliminary costs for that project total $1.4 million.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said of the total, $10.5 million came from tuition revenue carry-forward and $4 million was funded from Treasurer’s Temporary Investments and/or General Education Fund building renewal funds.

Freshmen participating in On Iowa received a sneak peek Aug. 24.

Freshman Mallory Keeney liked the clean, modern look of the space, as well as the group-study spaces, while Rae Corrigan likened the newly-expanded hours.

Moore said officials hope the learning commons will help push forward student needs and aid in their continuing education efforts. 

“The university is committed to providing an advanced learning environment that will equip students with the advanced educational experience they will need to compete in an increasingly global marketplace,” he said.

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