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Renovated Bourbon County library now half classic architecture, half modern

Bourbon County Library Mixes Old And New

The library mixes the architecture of the 1904 Carnegie building with new technology and lots of glass.
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The library mixes the architecture of the 1904 Carnegie building with new technology and lots of glass.

Perhaps the most intriguing space in the $5 million renovated and expanded Bourbon County library is a second-floor work room marking the space where the old Carnegie library meets the glassy modern addition.

There’s a red brick wall that once delineated the boundaries of the Carnegie library, built in 1904. Next to the brick is loblolly pine from the floor joists of the old building, with a stone lintel mounted between new windows.

Library director Mark Adler ran a finger along the indentations of the lintel, the wear of more than 100 years.

We wanted something that really paid an homage to Bourbon County’s landscape. We’re an agrarian county.

Library director Mark Adler, describing the recent renovation

Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929 with money donated by Scottish-American businessman Andrew Carnegie. In the United States, 1,689 of the libraries were built, including the one in Bourbon County and one in Lexington that now houses the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

“We wanted something that really paid an homage to Bourbon County’s landscape,” Adler said of the recent library renovation. “We’re an agrarian county.”

Said Harding Dowell, the project manager from EOP architects in Lexington: “This little study room has a lot of stories to tell.”

Adler, who also is an amateur caver, was delighted with the plan produced by Lexington’s EOP Architects for the library expansion. Some of the library’s corridors are like meandering rural paths, he said, with discoveries for those willing to pause and look. In the children’s room, there are drywall “clouds” that seem to float near the ceiling.

The new section of the library includes exposed limestone where you can see the fossilized remains of plants from past eons, a meeting room with a ceiling of reclaimed barn wood and a check-out desk with that same lob-lolly pine from the floor joists.

The goal of the renovation and expansion was to integrate the area’s character, Dowell said. The project gives the library more space, separate spaces for children’s programs and young adults, and an area where people can browse periodicals and chat.

The renovation and addition also has lots of windows, thereby fixing a problem Adler had with the old building: Even when it was full, you couldn’t tell from the street. Now, the library is more a part of the streetscape and activity inside is easily visible.

Harding Dowell, the project manager from EOP Architects of Lexington, said the building needed to be of service to Bourbon Countians, but it also needed to reflect what is unique about the county.

“We were trying from the start to make it a building that is for Bourbon County and of Bourbon County,” he said.

The library has undergone not only the usual construction inconveniences and a temporary move to 716 Main Street, but also a run of bad luck that included everything but a plague of locusts. In 2014 it suffered first a fire and then a gust of wind that knocked a concrete wall into the side of the old library. One observer said it looked as if a wrecking ball had hit the building.

The area has since been rebuilt.

An upstairs room will be used for adult library patrons and research, but just now it looks like a ballroom, all shiny floors and columns — except that these columns are wired. The library might have the look of an early-20th-century temple of learning, but it’s wired for the 21st-century world of constant Internet use and book downloading onto portable devices.

“Everywhere we could have connectivity, we did,” Dowell said.

Other new conveniences include 25 more parking spaces — from 21 to 46.

The library will have a soft opening on Jan. 11, with a grand opening later. Adler said he already has conducted tours for residents on request, although construction isn’t finished.

One particularly fun area in the library is a coal chute that was uncovered in the children’s area during renovation.

It could be covered up, Dowell said, but why?

“We’re going to clean it up and leave it there.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

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