John “Thunderbird Man” Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library Bond Information

Byers Branch Library exterior


Renovation project includes: 

  • Create much needed community spaces for meeting, learning and making
  • Neighborhood needs experiential space to keep youth engaged and learning while not in school or work
  • Repair, restore, maintain and protect this treasured 100-year Carnegie library
  • Adaptations needed to make the facility accessible to all residents

Designer: Studiotrope Design Collective
General Contractor: Interlock Construction

Address: 675 Santa Fe Drive
Year opened: 1918
Last renovation: 1992
Square footage: 4,640 sq. ft. including basement
Area population: 5,896
2016 visits: 63,628
2016 circulation: 44,562
2016 program attendance: 3,074
Status: Agency Critical System Need


Another of the five historic Carnegie Libraries, the then named Byers Branch Library opened in 1918 in a building designed by Varian & Varian Architects. It was named for William N. Byers, editor and founder of the Rocky Mountain News. The branch last undertook a $400,000 renovation in 1992, which upgraded the interior, added an additional entrance on the north side of the building and addressed infrastructure maintenance. In both 1952 and 2009, the then named Byers Branch Library was threatened with closures due to budget reductions but was rescued both times by community activism.

The then Byers Branch Library is designated as a Denver landmark as approved by the Denver Landmark Commission in 1989. The program is a public process that recognizes properties of historical, architectural and geographical importance to the City and County of Denver. To be eligible for designation, a structure must maintain its historic and physical integrity and meet criteria in two of three categories: history, architecture and geography.

The mural in the library, depicting César Chávez, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Hernán Cortés and Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, was restored by its original artist Carlota Espinoza in 2011. The Denver Public Library Friends Foundation presented the original mural in 1975.

The branch serves a diverse urban service area. Families are a large percentage of its customers. The branch’s collection and programs reflect the interests and needs of the diverse neighborhood.

Community Input

Community conversations at the John “Thunderbird Man” Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library included nine residents and library staff. Participants expressed the desire for a community that is safe and where youth have access to educational support and cultural opportunities. They expressed concerns about a lack of youth engagement and learning resources and were especially concerned with an uptick in car theft, home break-ins and drug use.

Transportation and traffic barriers are seen as key challenges to the neighborhood, particularly from young students walking to and from the library. Several busy streets and intersections bisect the neighborhood and make getting from one area to another difficult for those who are walking or bicycling.

In terms of the John “Thunderbird Man” Emhoolah Jr. Branch Library, residents expressed concern about the increase in use of the library by people experiencing severe poverty and exhibiting mental health or behavioral issues, which requires staff time and attention and pulls them away from serving other customers. Residents wish for greater coordination of neighborhood services for youth and those in economic need as well as a stronger police presence to help alleviate issues.

The Plan (what needs to be done)

  • Address site issues including landscaping, sidewalks and parking lots.
  • Restore and repair exterior facade.
  • Redesign and install book return to the interior.
  • Improve exterior lighting.
  • Upgrade the elevator.
  • Explore redesign of entrances. Replace the main east facing doors.
  • Improve heating, ventilation, air conditioning and temperature controls.
  • Update and refresh restroom partitions, lighting, vanity counters and flooring.  
  • Meet current fire alarm codes.
  • Install surveillance and access control.
  • Add a staff restroom.
  • Update the main electrical distribution and branch circuit panel.
  • Improve data, power and communication systems.
  • Update ambient lighting.
  • Redesign the service point for current technology and service models.
  • Update the community room with lighting, power, data, technology and service counter.
  • Explore new arrangements for flexible learning spaces.   
  • Refresh the entire children’s area.
  • Explore existing material shelving arrangement to obtain optimum customer use and convenience.
  • Redesign staff work room, break room and office for better efficiency and lighting.
  • Explore new arrangements for public access computers and for mobile device use.
  • Provide new interior finishes including paint, carpet, tile and ceilings.
  • Replace window coverings as needed.
  • Provide new interior furniture and fixtures.
  • Comply with current accessibility requirements.
  • Provide new wayfinding, digital signage and code-required signs.
  • Update or create IT data and communication closets.
  • Refinish the woodwork, casework and doors minimally with light sanding, staining and sealing, in keeping with the integrity of the historic Carnegie architecture.

A key component of a successful modern library requires creative design approaches for individuals and groups to learn, make and create. Changes in customer usage, technological advances and functionality also necessitate a renovation. The design approach will maintain the architectural integrity of the existing branch.

Current State

The last major renovation occurred in 1992 and the interior shows wear and tear with over 25 years of high use. The interior was designed for library usage patterns popular decades ago. Floor space is dedicated to shelving, which houses circulating collections, furniture for reading and study and large service desks. Community room space and equipment is conducive primarily for presentations and group meeting purposes. Staff workspaces are not arranged efficiently, not ergonomically designed, and do not take into consideration space for new staff resulting from increased hours in years past. Public and staff restrooms are not accessibility compliant, don’t address gender neutral accommodations and need refreshing. Some building systems and components are outdated, including electrical, lighting, telecommunications, mechanical, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Security and card access systems need upgrading. Data, power and furniture are lacking access to high speed broadband available for customers to connect to the internet using their mobile devices and public access computers. Compliance with current accessibility, building code and sustainability requirements are an issue. Landscaping, parking lot and sidewalk issues have not been addressed with annual maintenance funds. The stone facade needs to be restored.

Future State

The role of a modern branch library has shifted to be an active community space. Floor plans are reconfigured, shrinking shelving and increasing space for learning, making, creating, meeting and collaborating. Self-service options for checking out and ordering materials are conveniently located near staff service desks. The children’s area has a literacy-packed play space where parents and staff work together to prepare young children for reading and learning. A makerspace and digital media lab where all ages can gather to create, invent and learn is available. Easy, quick access to the Internet is available throughout the library.

Community and conference rooms are transformed into flexible multi-function spaces with the power, data, technology and sound systems to support out-of-school learning, adult classes, meetings, collaboration, cultural programming and community events. Staff workspaces are larger and efficiently organized. Public and staff restrooms are refreshed and meet access requirements. The facility is a safer place for customers and staff. Building systems and components are new and improved. All accessibility, building code and sustainability requirements are in compliance. Exterior facade is restored and site issues are improved.

Project Risks

Without a renovation and addition, adequate services to meet community demand and impacts on out-of-school learning to address low third grade reading and high school graduation rates will not be achieved. Due to the age of the building, the library should be prepared to encounter lead-based paint and asbestos containing materials. Restoration of the exterior facade and interior design approach will be in keeping with the integrity of the historic Carnegie architecture.

Risk Management

Partnering with Denver Environmental Health, Public Works and design professionals, specific testing of building components will occur at early stages.

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