$2.2-million expansion tailored toward families

Community Librarian Heather Geddes in the Children’s Activity Room of the new wing of the Morgan Hill Library. Photo by Marty Cheek

By Marty Cheek

When they are allowed to safely enter the main section of the Morgan Hill Library again, patrons will be thrilled to see the newly finished $2.2-million addition on the west wing.

Two sections are specially tailored for families. A spacious multi-purpose room is designed with bright colors and lots of natural lighting for children to enjoy events. Large sliding glass doors will separate this room from a smaller Children’s Activity Room featuring international language books. A still-in-progress art project will put fun and whimsical decals on the glass designed to amuse youngsters. The doors allow for expansion of the multi-purpose room if more floor space  is required.

“It’s a really great space,” said Heather Geddes, Morgan Hill community librarian. “It’s got a really good (audio-video) system in it so we’re going to be able to do a lot of live streaming of programs, movies, musicals, those types of things, as well as have live performers. It’s also going to be the space where we’ll be able to do our lunch at the library service.”

In the area in front of the international language children’s book section, the library is installing a new study space for children, teens and tutors to learn in during after school hours. Comfy furniture gives the area a splash of orange and blues and greens. The books will feature Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and other languages that will be accessible for South Valley kids and families to sit and read together. Eventually, an outdoor patio will likely be built just outside this area for additional use by patrons and staff.

The groundbreaking for the new library expansion took place in fall 2019 after a few years of the city going through the design process. The design evolved schematically by Weston Miles Architects and was presented to the Friends of the Morgan Hill Library, the library staff, the Morgan Hill Library and Arts Commission, and the city council for their comments. The phasing approach allowed the project to be constructed so the current functional spaces were not impacted.

The library is planning a virtual grand-opening sometime in either November or December to celebrate the new wing. As the county goes through phases of is COVID-19 guidelines, the library will begin opening up beyond the lobby area based on those metrics, Geddes said.

A schematic of the new multi-purpose room. * Photo courtesy Weston Miles Architects *

“Right now the library is taking a very safety-based approach to reopening our services to our patrons and our staff,” she said. “We’re in lobby services right now where people can come in and pick up books they requested and browse new material and best sellers.”

Weston Miles developed the design for the new wing to address a major need for parents and children to have their own independent space so activities can happen in the main program room at the same time as children’s events, said Lesley Miles, a principal at the Morgan Hill-based firm.

An introduction of both light and color was important to establish a space that would be fun and vibrant but also allow for presentations and videos including story time  and toddler time, she said.

“The space provides an opportunity for organized seating with bands of color that wrap around the space creating a colorful cocoon,” she said. “In addition to children’s space, the community room provides for the free food program with a walk-through space that includes a small kitchenette that will also double for children’s craft . . . As a local architect we particularly appreciate the opportunity to have designed the library expansion creating spaces for local children and families to enjoy the gift of reading and events.”

The addition to the library will enhance the quality of service to patrons, said Vicky Reader, president of the nonprofit group Friends of the Morgan Hill Library, which contributed to the process of designing the multi-purpose room. The library can now double the number of its community programs.

Other additions to the library include a educational play kiosk in the children’s section and a specially designed table that helps parents teach their kids the ABCs. This was funded by a grant from the Morgan Hill Community Foundation.

Friends were involved in the expansion of the bookstore in the front lobby area of the library, Reader said. The wall between the bookstore and the workroom was taken down. The Rotary Club of Morgan Hill provided a grant for the shelving for the additional space.

“That expanded the space tremendously,” she said. “Once the library allows us to work in the bookstore, that will give us space to accommodate browsers and volunteers — especially with social distancing. We’re going to have to limit the number of people for a while.”

Through the bookstore, the three “big book sales” throughout the year, and other fundraising endeavors, the Friends usually raise more than $40,000 a year for the library’s needs. These fundraisers have had to be cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Geddes and the rest of the staff can’t wait to give members of the Morgan Hill community the opportunity to see the new west wing expansion.

“We’ve missed our patrons and we’re looking forward to the day when we can fully open up our buildings and have our patrons back in a way that’s safe,” she said. “I always thought the library was community space as people come here to gather. And that’s been missing. We’re going to get through this pandemic and when we do, the library will be right here for our patrons.”

Marty Cheek