New library will be a beacon in Hill District

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The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh gave the public a sneak preview of its new Hill District library yesterday, the first to be built new since 1980 in Sheraden. It is under construction at Centre Avenue and Kirkpatrick Street and scheduled to open Oct. 25.

Architect Rob Pfaffmann said the prominence of the corner -- the sharply angled northwest meeting of a five-way intersection -- gave him a natural prompt to play outside the rectangular box.

"We took advantage of that dogleg to put in a room that juts out and serves as a lantern to the neighborhood," he said.

The $3.15 million project, on the site of a former gas station, will replace a basement branch at Centre and Dinwiddie Street that the library now rents from Allegheny Union Baptist Association.

The entire structure, with daylight pouring in on three sides and the prow-like glass reading room, looks as if it slipped its mooring in the street grid. But it's as rooted as an unfinished building can be, thanks to the relevance of nearby sites in the plays of August Wilson.

Mr. Wilson dropped out of school and reported every day to an earlier library on Wylie Avenue to read when he was a boy.

"He came back for the 100th anniversary [of the Carnegie Library system] and told us that his library card had been his most precious possession," said Barbara Mistick, executive director of the Carnegie Library system.

The eastern wall of the new building will hold a 10-foot-by-7-foot high-resolution map from 1923 with 12 numbered sites, each corresponding to a location in Mr. Wilson's plays.

One was Eddie's, a diner that was torn down just behind the library, where Mr. Wilson would write. It figured in the plot of "Two Trains Running."

"We saved one of the stools from Eddie's," said Mr. Pfaffmann. A shelf of African zebra wood will hold a volume of Mr. Wilson's plays, and people can sit on the stool to read the book and the map, he said.

The one-story building looks like two. It has high ceilings and an under-the-floor heating and cooling system that will place air where the people are. Abundant sunlight will save on electricity, while "low emissivity" glass windows will reflect heat away, said his business partner, Erik Hokanson.

A roof made of reflective rubber, a carpet of chemical-free recycled material and walls of a recycled newspaper product called Homasote will contribute to the building's silver certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design by the U.S. Green Building Council.

A. Martini and Co. is the general contractor.

The floor space is 6,000 square feet; offices, work space, meeting rooms and toilets will occupy another 1,700 square feet along the north strip of the building.

Ms. Mistick said the construction is the system's eighth project in a "Libraries for Life" capital campaign initiated in 2002. The others have all been relocations and renovations.

"I think it's going to be great, because I like to read and play on the computer," said Mikia Sheffey, 9, who visited with her brother, Terrance Sheffey, 11, and their baby sitter, David Turman.

Asked if he is looking forward to using the library, Terrance shrugged and said, "I haven't used one in a long time."

Mr. Turman laughed and said, "Oh, he'll be here."


Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626.


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