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New, Bigger Library for Fairfax City

New building at the corner of Old Lee and North Street to open in spring 2006.

Fairfax City is getting a new library.

Starting in Spring 2006, the Fairfax City Regional Library will move from its current home on Chain Bridge Road to a brand new building at the corner of North Street and Old Lee Highway, currently serving as a city parking lot.

Fairfax County Public Library Director Edwin "Sam" Clay III said he pounced on the idea of a new library when it was first proposed as part of the redevelopment of Old Town Fairfax.

"The timing was right, the dollars were right, the politics were right, the moon was right, the stars were right. Everybody said, 'Yes, do it,'" he said.

The old 32,500-square-foot library, he said, has gotten too cramped for its 318,000 annual visits, and the lack of parking has become a problem. The new library is planned to come in at 47,000 square feet with a capacity of 200,000 items and 202 parking spaces, including five handicapped spaces.

"This will be a flagship in terms of this will be our newest facility," said Clay.

One of the biggest improvements in the new library will be an expanded Virginia Room, where documents of local historic significance are kept.

"The Virginia collection is the one we highlight at the library because a lot of people use that for genealogical and historical research," said Gailyn Hlavka, the library's project manager.

The library will also offer 46 computers, seating for 180 patrons and areas for quiet study. The new building will include a conference room and a public meeting room accessible directly from the outdoors, meaning that the meeting room won't have to close when the library does.

The new building will cost about $16 million financed through a partnership between the city and the county. The city will sell 30-year bonds to build the library and, in return, the county will not charge the city its $700,000 annual "library services fee," a charge levied by the county in exchange for making library services available to city residents.

ABOUT 60 condos will go on the old library site, said Earl Berner, director of economic development for Fairfax City. The post office next door will also be torn down this summer. The old library will remain functional until the new one is completed.

Redeveloping Old Town Fairfax has been on the books for almost 30 years, Berner said, but this is the first time the city has gotten this far in planning its redesigned downtown.

"We want to enhance the existing historic fabric that's in downtown," he said. "And also make those buildings more economically viable as well by having more customers downtown, by having more shops and restaurants and so on."

The new library will serve as an institutional anchor for the redesigned Old Town, Berner said.

"The way the library is right now, the appearance of it and the lack of parking, it doesn't work the way it could," he said. "At the very least, it's dated, it doesn't have any architectural style at all."

GREG LUKMIRE, an architect with the Arlington-based Lukmire partnership, which has designed about 30 libraries in the area in the past 15 years, will design the new building.

"I think people see this as more of an urban downtown library than what people are used to in Fairfax County," he said. That means the building won't be spread out with a vast parking lot but will rise two stories with a two-story parking garage underneath. It will be one of the biggest buildings in town after the Courthouse, he said.

"Part of the goal is to make the library a little more apparent, welcoming and somewhat of a focal point," he said. "And so in order to do that, it needs to be accessible. People need to be able to find it, and once you're in there, it ought to be exciting. It needs to be memorable in terms of its interior space, in terms of its exterior expression."

Lukmire said he envisioned a high ceiling in the entrance and a reading room with plenty of natural light.

But the new building will have to fit in with the rest of Old Town Fairfax, said Clay.

"Our library has to blend in so we're not going to have that swooping modern building that Seattle has," he said.

Seattle recently opened a new city library designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas.

"It will be a place where you feel you like to go for recreation," said Lukmire. "On a nice, rainy, Sunday afternoon, people will want to go."