December 01, 2014, BY Matt Hughes

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When the Carnegie Building opened as Bucknell University's first dedicated library in 1905, students didn't have artificial lights to study in its airy, two-story reading room. In fact, the building had no electricity or gas lighting; skylights in its arched roof provided illumination.

Students complained that they couldn't study there after dark and chandeliers were eventually installed, but on the whole students of yesteryear inhabited an altogether brighter space than the dark maze of hallways Bucknellians find when they enter Carnegie today. Throughout years of renovations, its skylights have been covered over, its atrium replaced by a second floor to make room for additional office and classroom space, and nearly every source of natural light confined behind a door.

But by this time next year, the building's 110th anniversary, the sun will shine in Carnegie once again. At its fall meeting, the Bucknell Board of Trustees approved expending up to $7.9 million to renovate Carnegie, restoring its original elegance — including the sky-lit atrium — while bringing the building into compliance with modern codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"There has been a long-term desire to restore parts of this building," said Dennis Hawley '72, M'73, associate vice president of facilities. "We have nothing like it on campus, because none of our buildings were ornate to start. We have always desired to put it back to the way it was."

The Carnegie renovation is one step in the broader series of upgrades and expansions of physical assets outlined in the Plan for Bucknell. The opening of Academic West in fall 2013 provided additional office and classroom space, allowing Carnegie to be closed for renovation. Once that renovation is complete, Carnegie's reopening will in turn enable the remodeling of Roberts Hall, Bucknell's second-oldest building.

Constructed between June 1904 and June 1905 with a $30,000 grant from steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie — whose gifts funded the construction of more than 2,500 libraries worldwide — the Carnegie Library housed Bucknell's book collection for nearly 50 years, and was the backdrop for commencement ceremonies. But following the opening of Bertrand Library in 1950, the building took on a variety of uses.

  • In 1951 it was remodeled to provide space for Alumni Association offices, the Placement Office and the University Bookstore. The mezzanine was decked over to create a full second floor, the skylights were covered, and the structure was renamed the Carnegie Building.

  • In 1958 Counseling Services moved in.

  • In 1960 the second and third floors were renovated to create eight offices and a lounge. The alumni and counseling offices moved out and the Dual Development offices moved in, followed a year later by the geology and geography departments.

  • In 1963 WVBU moved into the basement.

  • In 1971 the bookstore moved out, and in 1972 the building was renovated again. New offices and classrooms were constructed, and sprinklers and an air conditioning system were installed.

  • The University considered demolishing the building during the 1997–98 academic year to create additional green space between Roberts Hall and the Science Quad. A group of art students researched the building's architecture and argued for its preservation in a letter to then President William Adams and an article in The Bucknellian.

  • Carnegie most recently housed the Department of History, which moved out with the opening of Academic West, and geology department labs, which will maintain their space in the building's renovated basement. | To read more about Carnegie's history, click here.

Through all of those renovations and additions, Carnegie morphed from an airy, student-centered gathering space, much like Bertrand Library today, into a crowded labyrinth of windowless hallways. The plans for the building's restoration aim to restore not only its character, but its social purpose as well. The central atrium and mezzanine (complete with reconstructed skylights) will be rebuilt and will serve as a student lounge and study area.

"We're going to put in gatherings of furniture, so that students can congregate and use it the way they use the library, for study groups," Hawley said.

We're looking at it as a gathering space. It may be used for displaying student artwork, it may be used for displaying student engineering projects — we're trying to make it a student-centric environment."

Eight suites surrounding the atrium will house offices and other spaces providing student and academic support services (though the exact offices and layout have not yet been decided). Along with other accessibility features, an elevator will also be added to one of the two stair towers flanking the building (both additions).

Celli-Flynn Brennan Architects & Planners, of Pittsburgh — a firm with extensive experience restoring small libraries — has designed preliminary plans for the project. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2015, and the facilities department hopes to complete and reopen the building in December 2015. Renovation work on Roberts Hall is slated to follow.