PORTLAND — Like a sculptor unveiling a work of art, library director Steve Podgajny pulls back a drop cloth hanging from a ceiling to reveal an enormous window overlooking Congress Street.
Daylight flashes through the Portland Public Library, transforming the dark and frumpy 31-year-old building into a bright and inviting public space.
That’s what a $7.3 million renovation project can do for a middle-aged building that had lost its zip.
The public will see for itself when the library reopens on April 15, after being closed for construction for a year.
Windows have been added, walls have been removed and all of the book stacks have been shortened, so people will be able to see Monument Square from the farthest reaches of the library.
Podgajny said the building’s interior is now visually integrated with the city around it, creating a dynamic interchange between the users inside and the people outside.
The new design – along with an expansion of the auditorium and gallery space – will allow the library to serve as the cultural center of the city, he said.
“It doesn’t take a genius,” he said of some of the design features. “There is light and energy coming in and out.”
The renovation was funded with a combination of public and private money. In 2004, Portland voters approved a $4 million bond to renovate their library system’s main branch.
Scott Simon Architects of Portland designed the project, beginning four years ago with 30 neighborhood meetings. Ledgewood Construction of Portland did the work.
The atmosphere is expected to be like that of a concourse in an indoor shopping mall, without the expectation of buying anything.
Some of the rules have changed, too.
Because the library, for the first time, will have a room dedicated for quiet reading and study, library officials say they will allow more noise in the rest of the building than has been permitted in the past.
If someone complains about the noise, Podgajny said, the staff can now give them the option of going to the quiet room upstairs.
On the lower level, the Rines Auditorium, home to special programming and community events, will have 300 seats, up from 185, as well as a new stage and acoustic improvements.
Because the staff will be able to close off access to the main library, doors can be opened for after-hour events in the auditorium and gallery, such as the First Friday Arts Walk. For the next art walk, the library plans to display art from several studios in the city.
Throughout the building, flat-screen video monitors will display information about the library. Large monitors in the new “teen area” can be set up for movies and video games. That area will have 12 new computers and its own entrance.
Other changes include:
• Moving and expanding the children’s library to the main level.
• Doubling the number of computers, to more than 50.
• Updating and repairing the library’s infrastructure to ensure uniform lighting and comfortable air quality and temperature.
• Adding public restrooms on each floor.
• Moving and expanding the audio-visual area.
Podgajny expects the renovation will lead to much more use of the library. For the staff, he said, it will be like coming to a new job.
Many people judge a community by its willingness to invest in its library, Podgajny said, so for many residents and visitors, the state-of-art library will change their view of Portland.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at