Harvard College Library

Widener Library Renovation Team Receives 3rd Annual SMPS Collaboration Award

The Widener Renovation Team was recently recognized for its exemplary collaboration and innovative project delivery methods, like converting the window of the Office of the Librarian into construction entryway to keep construction traffic out of the building and library services uninterrupted. (The Librarian moved to temporary digs in another part of the building.)

June 3, 2003 -- This month the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) recognized the combined efforts of the Widener Library Renovation team--the Harvard College Library (HCL), the Physical Resource Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), contractor Lee Kennedy Company, Inc., and Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering P.C. with the 3rd Annual SMPS Collaboration Award, which is given to a design/contractor/owner team that demonstrates exemplary collaborative effort throughout a construction project

The goal of the multi-million dollar Widener renovation, scheduled to be completed in Spring 2004, is to ensure the long-term preservation and security of the collections by upgrading all building and safety systems. The project poses complex challenges as it involves renovating an historic 300,000 square foot building within the snug confines of Harvard Yard bordered by a major urban corridor, cleaning and protecting 55 miles of books, providing uninterrupted library service to the University community, maintaining access to Widener’s 3.5 million volumes, and conveying information among 500 construction workers, 60 designers, 500 library staff, and 1500 daily library users. However, from the outset the project team led by Nancy M. Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian of Harvard College and chair of the Widener Planning Committee; David Zewinski, Associate Dean for Physical Resources and Planning in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Widener Building Committee; Lee Michael Kennedy, and Cahal Stephens, principals of the contracting and architectural firms, and their respective staff members have acted with unwavering unity.

Now four years into the renovation, the project is on-budget and on-schedule, the owner’s expectations of the renovated space are being met, and there has been none of the divisiveness among contractor, architects, and owners that is so common on projects of this magnitude.

“The ongoing success of the Widener renovation project is a direct result of close teamwork. From the earliest stages the College Library, FAS planners, Lee Kennedy Co., and Einhorn Yaffee Prescott shared a commitment to implement the project with sound leadership emphasizing communication, careful planning and coordination, and innovative project delivery methods. All parties share an understanding of the need to keep the library in service to our users, and we cultivated an environment of respect for all the work related to this massive project,” said Cline

Headed by Jeff Cushman, Capital Project Manager in the Physical Resource Office of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Widener project draws heavily on leadership from within the library. Unusual for a construction project of this scale is the sustained involvement of the library administration--Cline and Associate Librarians Susan Lee, Lynda Leahy, and Jeffrey Horrell-- in the day-to-day decision-making, in the management of the soft-cost budget, in the management of communications around the project, and in the concerted effort to involve library staff in the process. They appointed HCL Director of Operations, Paul Bellenoit, Library Project Manager to represent Library interests in all construction matters and to be involved in the project on a daily basis. Bellenoit sits on the Widener Building Committee and works closely with Cushman and Mary Ellen Fitzgibbons from FAS, architects Eric Ward and Jonathan Balas, Lee Kennedy Project Executive Robert O’Leary and Project Superintendent Bruno Maunsell.

The library administration also independently hired a conservation environment expert to identify the environmental needs of the collections and to advise the project team on the design, engineering, and installation of HVAC, lighting, and fire suppression systems as they relate to the long-term preservation of the books.

As the project took shape, FAS delegated to the Library the responsibility of managing the $5 million “soft-cost” budget of ancillary construction-related projects, and so took on the management moving and cleaning of the 3.5 million books, all security coverage during the project, all internal relocations of staff and service points, temporary and permanent signage, and the selection, purchase and delivery of all library furniture and equipment.

In many projects, communications efforts are directed by the designer or contractor, but the library administration, cognizant of the importance of communicating constantly and in different ways with its users and hundreds of employees decided to manage communications. Beth Brainard, Director of Communications for HCL, was charged with the overall responsibility, and working with the team, developed a comprehensive, project-specific communications plan. An array of communications vehicles are employed to reach the various audiences, from web sites to closed circuit televisions to photo display walls. There are tours of the completed sections of the building; the Library Project Manager conducts regular project briefings for all interested staff; and the library has hosted informational forums and special workshops to address project-related issues such as asbestos abatement.

As important as the channels of communication to staff and users, and as carefully cultivated, are the channels of communication set up among the Library, FAS Office of Physical Resources, the contractor, and the architects. The construction team, consisting of representatives from all parties, will hold its 213th weekly meeting June 5; the Widener Building Committee has convened bi-weekly since 1998. An open-door policy among all principals was established at the onset of the project. As the librarians determinedly expanded their vocabularies to include the language of design and construction, the contractor and architects made the effort to learn the details of library workflow and the importance of collection preservation and library security.

A key piece of the library’s strategy was to involve the staff early in the project. As the Widener renovation project will create an optimal environment for both the collections and researchers, it was not difficult for Cline to rally librarians and staff members charged with the stewardship of one of the world’s great research collections to the cause. They responded enthusiastically when called upon, and used their skills and expertise to help the administration lay the groundwork for the project. Working groups were formed to explore issues around collection management, space/program planning, training, workflow, and communications. Symposia were held with colleagues from peer institutions, such as Yale, that had undertaken similar library renovations, and a training session was developed to teach the contractors about the significance and sometimes fragile nature of the collections. True to the spirit of the project, the contractors responded by conducting a session in which they instructed librarians about construction sequencing and methodologies.

Thorough research has been integral to aspects other than handling collections and providing services. When a new smoke detection system was being considered, Library Project Manager Bellenoit visited a library in Scotland where the system was installed in order to assess operational and maintenance issues. A number of other critical site visits took place, including one in which the Building Committee visited buildings throughout downtown Boston to assess different glass roof options for the new reading rooms. And throughout, the research by the conservation environment consultant guided engineering considerations.

According to Cline, “By taking the time to do careful, relevant research in close collaboration with the architects and construction managers, we avoided problems that have beset other institutions. We are grateful for the openness of colleagues whose renovations preceded ours—they gave us pointers all along our planning process.”

When other major research libraries preparing to embark upon large-scale renovations, visit the Widener project, the College Library administrative group is quick to emphasize how the success of the project is founded in the diverse strengths of an owner/designer/contractor team committed to rigorous planning, strong communications, and well-defined goals.




This story appears courtesy of the Harvard College Library Communications Office
Copyright © 2004 President and Fellows of Harvard College