Manager David Dennison squinted in the sun as he stood in front of the Reynoldsburg branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library last week, next to a sculpture carved with the word "Learning."

Since the entrance to the library at 1402 Brice Road is in the back of the building, people don't often gather on the front lawn, Dennison said.

"We do bring kids out here for the Bring the Farm To You program, for our summer reading challenge," he said. "Kids love it -- and it's one of my favorite youth programs."

Big changes are coming, however, after Columbus Metropolitan Library officials recently gave the go-ahead for Phase 2 of the CML 2020 Vision Plan, which calls for renovating or rebuilding the Reynoldsburg, Karl Road, Hilltop and Gahanna libraries, at a total estimated cost of $77.3 million.

In fact, the location of the Reynoldsburg branch could change, said Ben Zenitsky, CML marketing and communications specialist, although he said it is too early for that decision.

"These four buildings (in Phase II) were identified due to their age, as well as the growing needs of the communities they serve," he said.

"In terms of relocating branches, we take a lot into consideration. The Gahanna branch is located on a flood plain, so serious thought is being given as to whether we remain on that site or move to a new location," he said.

Zenitsky said library officials would explore opportunities for other locations.

"If a sufficient plot of land is available in a place that makes more sense to us, then we'll certainly consider it," he said.

Project timeline

Because the project has just begun, however, it could be more than two years before residents of those communities see new or extensively renovated libraries.

"We hope to select an architect and construction manager-at-risk later this year, but that could always change," Zenitsky said. "We're still very early in the process, but I would anticipate construction starting no earlier than 2020."

He said the 2020 Vision Plan was developed in 2009 to address and prioritize the needs of CML's 23 locations. Phase 1 renovated or rebuilt 10 libraries, including the Main Library in downtown Columbus.

"Eight of the 10 projects are complete," Zenitsky said. "The new Martin Luther King branch is scheduled to open later this year and the new Dublin branch is scheduled to open in 2019."

Originally built in 1980, the Reynoldsburg branch is the second-oldest of CML's libraries, Dennison said.

"An expansion/renovation was completed in 1990, but since then, only modest changes were made, like visual updates to bring the buildings into the same color schemes," he said.

Branch usage

Zenitsky said renovation decisions are not solely based on branch usage, since updates in technology mean fewer people physically visit the library.

Reynoldsburg branch usage was recorded at 526,199 people in 2012. That number was down to 305,840 in 2017, he said.

"That can be attributed to a number of factors," Zenitsky said. "We introduced automatic renewal of library materials in 2014, which enables customers to hold onto their materials longer, negating the need to stop in as often."

Eliminating overdue fines in 2017 had the same effect.

"But another factor we consider is the evolving needs of the community," Zenitsky said. "We want to provide a library that meets the needs of Reynoldsburg."

Dennison said his wish list includes what his customers want the most: "They want more space for them to work, to study, to meet in groups and have some privacy," he said.

The Reynoldsburg library will continue to expand essential programs under its "Young Minds Initiative," which includes reading and homework help, kindergarten readiness and other ways to boost student learning, Dennison said.

Design elements

Even though it's early in the game, Zenitsky said some elements definitely will be included in a remodeled or rebuilt Reynoldsburg branch. Patrons will get more open spaces with natural sunlight, along with more seating, meeting rooms and community gathering space, he said.

"Public libraries have changed dramatically in the last 40 years," he said. "Past libraries were designed and built for books, whereas public libraries of the 21st century are designed and built for people who love books."

He said customers could expect a larger children's area, homework help center and dedicated space for teens to "hang out."

"These are all standard features in each of our new library buildings," he said.

As branch manager since 2009, Dennison has seen a lot of changes.

"We are a far more diverse community now," he said. "I'm really proud of what we do at the library to support that community. We have an amazing collection of children's books and programming that could help children learn and be ready to succeed in every stage of life.

"Adults come to the library to enjoy the books and to use our technology to research projects and prepare for jobs."

Patrons will get a chance to submit their own wish lists, Dennison said.

"As we are farther along in the renovation plans, I expect us to hold a public forum to get feedback from the community," he said.