By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
The venerable Jefferson Market Library, inside the former Third Judicial District Courthouse building (ca. 1874-77), is getting an extensive ADA rehab. Since November 27, 1967 the building has served as the Jefferson Market Library—saved from the demolition ball by community preservation activists, and remodeled by architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. As mandated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), all public accommodations must provide equal access to those with defined disabilities as soon as possible. You may wonder, rightly so, why it took 29 years to comply with the law despite restorations done in 1994, 2012 and 2014, but that is another subject (applicable to many buildings).
The time for the library’s ADA rehab has come, with the carefully designed update by WXY Architecture + Urban Design. The work was written about by NYPL branch manager Frank Collerius in the April edition of WestView News, which told of the full closure of the facility on April 1st to allow licensed workers to remove asbestos contaminated materials (ACM), demolish the existing non-compliant elevator, and begin clearing the exterior site along West 10th Street where the exterior ramp will be located.
Phase two work is planned to begin July 15th, when the entrance and major rooms facing Sixth Avenue will re-open for patrons. During the following 19 months the site and rooms facing West 10th Street will be gutted, and ADA restrooms will be built on three floors which will be accessible by a new ADA elevator.
For those familiar with the exuberant masonry architecture, the angles and steps abounding throughout the building raise accessibility challenges at every turn. The existing entry is seven steps up from the sidewalk, then three more up to the reading rooms. The former workroom/circulation desk area is being transformed into a new lobby with a raised ceiling and raised floor to make it match other main floors. The elevator lands at this new floor, so the new restrooms are also accessible on this level.
Of course, the architects at WXY Architecture still had to figure out an accessible path to the lobby floor from the sidewalk; the stairs on Sixth Avenue must remain since they are part of the protected historic character. That is where the West 10th Street façade comes in, which provides the space for an access ramp on the sidewalk. And by gently utilizing two window openings facing west, automatic doors are introduced at the top of the ramp landing, right at the new lobby level.
Phase three work, scheduled for the first quarter of 2021, will finish up less obtrusive aspects after all else is open, but still include new children’s restrooms, and a simplified Sixth Avenue vestibule.
The community has much to be grateful for as this cherished landmark gets its useful life extended for many years to come. More building details were included in my “Then & Now” article in the March, 2018 issue of WestView News. They say the Hudson Park Library branch is up next for improvements; let’s hope so.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, and is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.