Four years after a flash flood filled the Sprague Library’s basement with more than five feet of water and caused extensive damage, the branch is better than ever thanks to a $4.5 million renovation.
The library, at 2131 South 1100 East, which is considered by many to be the heart of Sugar House, reopened May 3.
The design and remodel of Sprague Branch was done by architectural teams Arch Nexus, of Salt Lake City, and the New York City-based Margaret Sullivan Studio; Paulsen Construction, a family-operated business that originally built the structure nearly a century ago; and various subcontractors.
“I was always told that when you do historic work with these types of structures that you want to make it become what it always wanted to be,” Sullivan said. “You want to make it better than it was, even when it opened.”
The exterior retains its English Tudor-style, while the interior space houses a 21st Century library that pays tribute to the community’s history. The branch – named for Joanna Sprague, the Salt Lake City Public Library System’s executive director from 1903 to 1940 – has 13,058 square feet of interior space and 23,000 items in its collection.
A homage to the sugar beet is found throughout the facility, including in rugs designed specifically for the library by Margaret Sullivan Studio intern Neely Leslie, and on hand railings.
Community landmarks – the Snelgrove Ice Cream cone, Monument Square, Sugar House Costume Company, Nu-Crisp Popcorn, Granite Furniture’s “Sputnik” and Stark Steering – also can be seen in design elements.
Features in the two-level library include a Creative Lab, where visitors can explore new technologies, an Everbright light wall, a Tween Space with a moss wall, and a Teen Room that has a plant terrarium. In the Children’s Room, books face forward at eye level so kids can browse.
A Business Incubator has four study rooms and a larger meeting room with a retractable glass wall where patrons can work. An outdoor space has shade structures and furniture where library visitors can lounge and a platform that will be good for summer concerts.
Sprague originally opened in 1914 at 1035 East 2100 South. The branch was moved to its current location in 1928 after Paulsen Construction completed the building, which cost $36,000 to build.
The American Library Association named Sprague the Most Beautiful Branch Library in America in 1935.
A downpour on July 26, 2017, caused water from Parley’s Creek to flood into the Sprague Branch basement and ruined all the materials there, including the nonfiction collection and Sugar House historic archives. Planning for the renovation began soon and community members were invited to meetings to give their input on how they wanted to use the library.
The top choices were to cozy up with a book and read, play and learn; meet with groups, study, create, make and innovate, hang out with friends and family, and incubate a business.
“I think it was really helpful to have that dialogue at the beginning of the process,” Sullivan said, adding that designers did not want to mimic the past but build on the historic character and quality of the library.
For two years beginning in April 2019, while the library was being remodeled, Sprague Branch operated from the old Fire Station #3 nearby on Simpson Avenue. According to the design team, the renovated building includes elements to help prevent future flooding.
Visit their website for hours and other information about the library.
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