By Bob Uphues
The Brookfield Public Library Board of Trustees cut ties with its longtime architect on Feb. 7, voting unanimously to select Product Architecture and Design, a small Chicago-based firm that specializes in library design.
In choosing Product Architecture, trustees bypassed the architect it had been using since 2012, Michael Mackey formerly of Dewberry and more recently of Studio GC, the firm the library board hired in late 2014.
Studio GC was one of four firms that made presentations to the library board on Feb. 2, but trustees ranked Product Architecture above their longtime firm.
"Product Architecture and Design, their specialty is really remodeling … that is their strength, and this is exactly what we need for this kind of a project," said library board President Linda Kampschroeder.
Of the four firms presenting concepts to the board – the other two were Engberg Anderson and William Architects – Product Architecture was the only one to present at least one concept that didn't require closing Lincoln Avenue. All of the architects used the former church property for parking
They were also the only firm, Kampschroeder said, that called for completely gutting the existing library facility and redesigning the interior space from scratch, and their cost estimates included all aspects of the project, down to the furniture.
The firm indicated it had obtained grant funding for other projects they'd worked on in the past.
"That showed me they really are in tune with what our needs are," Kampschroeder said.
Trustee Dianne Duner said she liked Product Architecture's "global perspective" and was particularly enthusiastic about Product Architecture's interior design abilities.
Duner's only note of caution was the fact that Product Architecture's conceptual designs including additions that were among the smallest, at right around 4,000 square feet.
Such an addition would mean the library would be expanded to only about 17,500 square feet, which is well short of the 32,000 square feet the library board had sought when it was contemplating a brand new facility.
"Are we getting enough space to make a critical difference?" Duner asked.
But other trustees said that the board would need to ensure any design was big enough, and that the proposed designs were just concepts.
"It's great to have space, but it's more important how you use it," said Trustee Jennifer Perry, who said Product Architecture was her first choice previously, but passed them over because they hadn't done a new building from the ground up.
"There's a lot of wasted space in this building, and I think [Product Architecture] is best suited to come up with a way for us to maximize what we do have," Perry said.
Trustee Carol Vaughn Kissane, who was on the library board when the existing library was built in the mid-1980s, said she was also impressed with Product Architecture and Design for "thinking outside the box."
"I liked that their ideas were within the budget that we gave them,' Kissane said. "I liked that they wanted to go for grants … [and] they seemed very anxious and willing to work with the village, which impressed me."
In late 2017, the library board abandoned its year-long quest to build a new library on land it purchased six years ago at 3541 Park Ave., the former site of Brookfield United Methodist Church.
Instead, the board solicited proposals from architectural firms, asking them for conceptual plans for an addition to the existing library, 3609 Grand Blvd. The library board asked firms to be inventive while including certain specific elements, such as a large, divisible meeting room capable of holding 100 people, a quiet reading room, study rooms, physically separate adult and children's areas, outdoor education space and parking.
Firms were also asked to keep cost estimates for their conceptual plans in the range of $6 million.
"The designs the firm showed us [on Feb. 2] were just tools, the possibilities of what we could do with resources that are available to us," Kampschroeder said, "and also to give us an insight into these firms – how they work and the creativity of the firm."
Library officials will now work to hammer out a contract with Product Architecture before the firm begins designing the expansion/renovation of the library. Officials expect that the design and village vetting process could take a year to complete.
"We really need to just clean the slate here and make use of every square inch," Kampschroeder said.