October 17, 2012— St. Helena’s new library is “more than a library, it’s a destination,” says David Coleman, project manager. A sign welcomes me in traditional island Gullah, “We be glad fa see oonah,” which translates, “We are glad to see you.” The brand-new St. Helena Branch Library has been in the works for three years, and it is quite an asset to the community. The design is meant to reflect nature, the building materials are green, and the technology is state-of-the-art. For example, St. Helena is the first branch to boast a Mac Lab! Modernization includes a drive-through book drop that takes the books up through a conveyor belt and into the building. For wheelchair access, one only has to wave at a sensor, and the doors will open. The lighting will dim according to the brightness of the natural light coming through the windows. In every smaller room, the lights switch on automatically when you open the door. The community is supported with meeting spaces for different civic organizations: they can make use of the two large, modern conference rooms, one with a full kitchen. Belinda Blue, Reference, was excited to give me a tour of the facility and introduce other members of the staff.
Everything about the building’s design is contemporary but also tied to nature. The lights in the Children’s Section resemble lofty white clouds in the sky, and the wooden, child sized chairs are accented with colorful animals. This part of the library is sectioned off by Sweet Grass that is laminated into panels between the shelves. With only one way in and out, parents do not have to worry about losing their children in a maze of books. As they advance, they can move on to the Teen Section. Children can grow up here, expanding their horizons every step of the way.
Sharon Brooks is the librarian for the Teen Section which is made up of new books including an entire graphic novel collection. Teens
have access to a recording studio which can make productions with equal quality to what you see in the movie theater: “The ability to make movies and videos is like a training school to nurture you and push you to somewhere like SCADD,” says Coleman. The Teen Lounge is equipped with a large flat screen television and drop down black-out screens for perfect viewing, and the furniture was selected by the Teen Board.
David Coleman has been the building project manager for three years. On this opening day, I can hear the awe and pride in his voice: “Our whole purpose and vision was to bring technology to a neighborhood that didn’t have any, and we brought it. We have anything you need in here to develop job skills, to develop personal skills- any kind of training with computers.” He emphasizes the stimulation available for young minds as they grow to teens and young adults, all the way up to senior interests.
“The library reflects the environment. This library wouldn’t work anywhere else.” The columns branch out at the top with support beams like the forests of pine trees that we know so well here in the Lowcountry. Traditionally, learning took place outside, under the canopy in the forest. This memory of Gullah heritage is what inspired the design- we are not like the big city, and we celebrate this. Glass walls bring in natural light: “They allow natural light in and then make you function at a higher level and make you feel that you are not confined in an environment. They make you feel part of an environment.” The library is a LEED certified facility through the Green Building Council because it was built as a sustainable project. They recycled 63% of waste and used renewable products like low-volatile organic compound paints, sealers and carpet while also taking advantage of locally-manufactured materials like the 2×6 pine beams that are laminated into the ceiling. All of these concessions and commitments were made while also and staying ahead of schedule and within the budget ($11 million).
The St. Helena Branch library is located on Jonathan Francis Sr. Road, a left turn after you pass Penn Center on Martin Luther King Drive.