Parts of historic Suzzallo Library to close for renovations

Across the walkway from Mary Gates Hall, fences are beginning to block access to the University’s premier landmark, Suzzallo Library, as its older wings undergo a 20-month renovation and seismic upgrade.

In a 1991 study of earthquake danger on campus, Suzzallo Library was ranked as one of the most hazardous buildings at the UW. Without strengthening, some of the ornate towers, stained glass and even terra cotta statues could tumble.

Since spring, the library has been shuffling its collection to clear the older wings of books. On April 10, the grand Suzzallo Reading Room closed so that its contents can be cleared. “We sent 400,000 volumes over to Sand Point,” says Paula Walker, libraries assistant director overseeing the renovation. The least used collections will be stored off-campus or in the basement of Kane Hall, while the more popular books will still be on open shelves, though the location may change.

The renovation will cost about $42.6 million in state capital funds. The goal is to strengthen the ability of the building to survive a major earthquake. The appearance of such important spaces as the historic Suzzallo Reading Room and the grand staircase will be preserved while making them safe.

The entire library should reopen sometime in winter quarter of 2002. Space inside the main entrance will have several new uses, says Walker. “It will be partly devoted to an instruction room and partly to a lobby area for exhibits. We’ll also have a new disabled entrance.” The circulation and reference areas will move up to the first floor from their ground floor locations.

The “Red Square” entrance to Suzzallo will be closed and a fence erected during the construction, but the fence won’t go up until after commencement. The photogenic west façade will still be available for this year’s graduation pictures.