UW News

September 25, 2013

Shiny new Odegaard library greets students

News and Information

Incoming freshmen and returning University of Washington students alike are being greeted by a spiffy new version of the Odegaard Undergraduate Library following the first major renovation in its 41-year history.

A three-story atrium is the centerpiece of the refurbished Odegaard Undergraduate Library.

A three-story atrium is the centerpiece of the refurbished Odegaard Undergraduate Library.Vince Stricherz

The nearly $17 million first phase of renovation aimed to adapt the 50,000-square-foot space to modern student needs, with two new active-learning classrooms that allow students and teachers to interact directly using a variety of media, as well as technology-enabled small meeting rooms and team booths. Many of the spaces include writable walls to enhance student collaboration.

Perhaps the most noticeable change is replacement of the central stairway with a smaller staircase, creating a colorful three-story atrium that introduces more light and provides informal seating. More than 80 percent of the wood from the bannisters of the old stairway was reused in the work.

A major challenge was that the construction had to be completed in a year, with the building remaining available to students for all but a couple of months, said Louise Richards, Odegaard’s assistant director.

The project is particularly notable for bringing the architect, The Miller Hull Partnership of Seattle, and the general contractor, the Kirkland office of Mortenson Construction, on board at the same time. That allowed them to work together on design issues and complete the work at a lower cost and in a shorter time.

Library offices were relocated to portables on the west side of the building, and the architect and general contractor had space there as well so all three groups could confer each day.

“There were lots of challenges. We talked about everything,” Richards said. “There was lots of coordination, lots of talking, lots of problem-solving. Everyone threw themselves into it.”

Bringing the general contractor in as a partner for master planning and for setting the scope of work to match the budget allowed the library to remain open during construction and for the work to be completed in a tight time frame. That teamwork led to UW earning a Construction Owners Association of America Project Leadership Silver Award for 2013.

The renovation grew out of a report in March 2010 from a group envisioning the library’s future, led by Robert Stacey, now the dean of arts and sciences, and Jill McKinstry, Odegaard director.

In the revamped library, staff offices have moved to the mezzanine level. In the previous configuration, the mezzanine housed the library’s media center, which has since moved to Suzzallo Library.

An instructor's station is ready for use in an active-learning classroom. Each table is fully wired and has space for nine students.

An instructor’s station is ready for use in an active-learning classroom. Each table is fully wired, has its own flat-screen monitor and has space for nine students.Vince Stricherz

That change allowed creation of the three-story atrium, which floods the building with natural light and allows a large amount of informal seating on the first floor, which has spaces for smaller groups to meet and a writing/research center. Also on that floor are two active-learning classrooms that make it possible for students to work in groups and switch back and forth between laptops that are projected on team screens, as well as to share information from one table to another.

The second floor houses media and sound studios and a variety of other computer stations, as well as the largest computer lab on campus, operated by the Learning Technologies division of UW Information Technology.

The third floor is largely enclosed in glass, a designated quiet area for students. It also houses 125,000 books that support undergraduate education.

Odegaard is the primary 24-hour library for UW students and is the most-used student study and research center on campus. The revamped version actually began full operations in June, with the idea of using the slower summer quarter to work out any bugs. The problems have been minimal, Richards said, and students have been enthusiastic about the renovated space.