Sterling nave renovations on track

Starting this June, visiting tour groups will not be taking many photos of the iconic entrance hall of Sterling Memorial Library.

During the upcoming restoration of the Sterling atrium — known as “the nave” in reference to its cathedral-like design — the space will be covered in scaffolding, and library patrons will have to navigate the room using “construction tunnels,” University Librarian Susan Gibbons said in a Monday email. The comprehensive renovations, which were announced in fall 2011 after the Yale Tomorrow Campaign received an anonymous $20 million donation specifically designated for restoring Sterling’s nave, will begin in June and are expected to be completed in fall 2014.

Though the project will primarily aim to restore the stained glass windows and fix leaks around the windows and ceiling, it will also reconfigure the nave as a destination where students can gather and converse, Gibbons said. In preparation for the renovations, library staff members are brainstorming ways to reconfigure the setup of services temporarily in a way that will enable the library to operate smoothly during the construction, said Associate University Librarian Kendall Crilly MUS ’86 GRD ’92.

“We’re really trying to limit the inconvenience to the users,” Crilly said.

Crilly said most of the changes in the way the library operates during the construction will be unnoticeable to students besides the relocation of the three service desks currently in the nave to the nearby Franke Periodical Reading Room.

Sterling will continue to operate throughout the renovations, Gibbons said, adding that the library is working to find ways to draw attention to the different study spaces in Sterling while the Franke Periodical Reading Room is used for the service desks.

Gibbons said the library may create a system to track the daily noise levels during the construction in the areas surrounding the nave — such as the Starr Reading Room — so that students can decide in advance whether to study in Sterling.

“The noise level of the construction is the real unknown,” Gibbons said. “I suspect there will be days when the construction noise levels on the [first] floor of Sterling will be very distracting for the library staff and students.”

Before construction begins, Gibbons said library staff will move the paintings, tapestries, exhibit cases, computers and other furniture out of the nave starting in May. The staff workstations in the library basement will also be upgraded with new desks to accommodate the staff members who will be moved out of the nave during the renovation, Crilly said.

The Wright Reading Room in the Sterling basement and the three seminar rooms that surround it will be temporarily affected this summer, Crilly said, because construction workers will need to install a modern heating and air conditioning system into the ceilings of those rooms. The area will be available for normal use by next fall, he added.

Crilly said that the stonework and woodwork in the nave also need to be cleaned and repaired.

“There are active leaks around the windows and ceiling which are damaging the stone walls of the nave,” Gibbons said.

All stained glass windows in the nave that are exposed to the outside will be removed and sent to stained glass workshops for restoration, Crilly said, adding that the windows were created in the 1930s.

“They’re failing on us because of conditions over the years,” Crilly said.

Gibbons said the new nave will have one central service desk instead of three, and will have better lighting and signage to highlight the location of the entrance to the stacks. She added that the addition of tables and comfortable chairs in the card catalog area will help the nave become a place where students can study and relax.

Crilly said the Linonia and Brothers Reading Room, also known as the “Green Room,” will reopen this spring and will remain open during the nave restoration. The room is currently being used by library staff during the renovation of a portion of the “technical services area,” which had faced serious leaks during recent rainstorms, he said.

Six students interviewed said they do not anticipate that the renovations will significantly affect them because they do not spend time in the nave itself and can study elsewhere if noise levels become too loud in Sterling’s reading rooms. But two of the six students added that they will miss the nave’s aesthetic qualities while it is under construction.

“When people come visit me, I take them to Sterling because it’s the nicest library,” said Maia Eliscovich ’16. “If there’s dust and construction noises, I’ll stop going.”

Sterling has nearly 3,300 panes of stained glass in total, designed by G. Owen Bonawit.

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