Smiley Branch Library Bond Updates


Smiley Branch Library exterior

Renovation project includes:

  • Outdoor improvements to landscaping, sidewalks, exterior lighting, repaving parking lot, facade repair & restoration
  • Interior improvements to the entrance, book return
  • Upgrading elevator, restrooms, community room, flexible learning spaces, children’s area, shelving arrangement redesign
  • Improved staff spaces
  • Updating building systems including: life safety systems, improved HVAC, replacing existing boiler, installing surveillance and access control, electrical, lighting, IT, and communication systems
  • Provide new interior finishes, furniture, fixtures, and signage
  • Compliance with current ADA requirements

Designer: Studiotrope Design Collective 
General Contractor: Interlock Construction

Address: 4501 W. 46th Avenue
Year opened: 1918
Last renovation: 1992
Square footage: 4,726 including basement
Area population: 23,082
2016 visits: 118,602
2016 circulation: 286,271
2016 program attendance: 11,898
Status: Agency Critical System Need

Project Goals

  • Configure spaces to better accommodate growing numbers of families and children
  • Major renovations are needed to restore, maintain and protect this treasured 100-year-old Carnegie library
  • Adaptations needed to make the facility accessible to all residents
  • Create community spaces to meet the neighborhood’s changing demographics


Built in 1918, the Smiley Branch Library is one of the original branch locations partially funded by the Carnegie Corporation and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The branch is named after William H. Smiley, Denver school teacher and superintendent who moved to the city in the 1880s and was known as “the grand old man of education in Colorado.” In 1980, it became home to the Northwest Denver Toy Library, which is run solely by neighborhood volunteers and offers toys and games for checkout with a library card. A 1992 renovation by David Owen Tryba Architects upgraded the interior, added an additional entrance on the north side of the building and addressed infrastructure maintenance

The branch was designed by library officials to be as “attractive as possible for the children of the neighborhood.” Its location in Berkeley Park was “intended for the special use of the large groups of children who play there daily, and who will skate there in the wintertime.” Today the branch serves a wide-variety of customers who rely on the branch’s close proximity to Berkeley Park and West Denver neighborhoods for their informational, recreational and cultural needs.

The Smiley 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 branch serves a diverse service area with families being a large percentage of its customers. Many own their homes and prefer living in an older established city neighborhood. The branch’s collection and programs reflect the interests and needs of the diverse neighborhood.

Community Input

Residents and staff gathered in July to provide feedback on the Berkeley Park and surrounding neighborhoods. Overwhelmingly, residents are concerned with the changing character of the neighborhood. With the popularity of Tennyson Street, the area has less of the quiet, intimate neighborhood feel that originally drew residents to the area. Many historic businesses that helped build the Highlands’ popularity as a destination neighborhood have now lost leases and closed. Traffic and parking have become problems in general.

Residents shared concerns for the library as well. Many use the branch as a place to pick up materials on hold and browse the collection. However, space in the building is limited which affects program attendance, especially for children’s Storytimes and summer programs that regularly draw record crowds. Many programs must be delivered outdoors and are subject to inclement weather. Building signage is not prominent and library staff often hear that residents do not know the building is a library but is mistakenly believed to be part of the Parks and Recreation facilities for Berkeley Park.

The Plan (what needs to be done)

  • Restore/repair exterior facade including: paint, brick tuck-pointing and terra cotta medallion replacement.
  • Install book return to the interior.
  • Upgrade elevator.
  • Address site issues, including landscaping, sidewalks and exterior lighting.
  • Explore redesign of entrances.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Waterproof basement and community room and then replace windows, window coverings, sink, carpet and color.  
  • Update lighting, power, data, technology and service counter.
  • Explore arrangements for flexible learning spaces.   
  • Refresh the entire children’s area.
  • Explore existing material shelving arrangement to obtain optimum customer use and convenience.
  • Design staff workroom, break room and office for better efficiency and better lighting.
  • Explore new arrangements for public access computers and for mobile device use.
  • Provide new interior finishes including paint, carpet, tile and ceilings.
  • Provide new interior furniture and fixtures.
  • Provide new wayfinding, digital signage and code-required signs.
  • Refinish the woodwork, casework and doors minimally with light sanding, staining and sealing, in keeping with the integrity of the historic Carnegie architecture.
  • Comply with current accessibility requirements.

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 and addition. The design approach will maintain the architectural integrity of the existing branch.

Current State

The last major renovation of the facility occurred in the early 1990s and the interior shows wear and tear with over twenty years of high use. The interior was designed for library usage patterns popular a few decades ago. Most of the floor space is dedicated to fixed shelving housing circulating collections, furniture for reading and study and large service desks designed for staff tasks related to receiving and checking out materials.

The basement community room needs repairs to keep the area waterproof. Upgrades to finishes, furniture, technology, lighting, data, power and the service counter are also needed. Elevator access to the basement needs improvement. Staff workspaces are not arranged efficiently, not ergonomically designed and do not take into consideration space for new staff resulting from increased hours in the last several years. Public and staff restrooms are not fully accessible to all customers and don’t address gender neutral accommodations and need refreshing. Some of the building systems and components are outdated including electrical, lighting, telecommunications, mechanical, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Security and card access systems need to be upgraded. Data, power and furniture are lacking for 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 requirements, building code, and sustainability requirements are an issue. Landscaping, parking lot and sidewalk issues have not been addressed with annual maintenance funds. The brick facade needs restoration.

Future State

The role of the 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 to learn and read. A do-it-yourself lab space where all ages can gather to create, invent, and learn with equipment, software, electronics, craft supplies, tools and more 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 requirements, building code and sustainability requirements are in compliance. Exterior facade is restored and site issues are improved. Repairs are completed to make the foundation waterproof. Improvements to the basement and elevator are completed.

Project Risks

Without a renovation and activation of the basement, adequate services to meet community demand and impacts for early learning, intergenerational family programming and access to technology will be compromised. Without renovation, a historic City asset will disintegrate. Due to the age of the building, the library should be prepared to encounter lead-based paint and asbestos containing materials.

Library staff and local historians are particularly interested in preserving the historic significance of the building, helping stave off wear and tear while highlighting the unique features and craftsmanship that give the building its unique charm.

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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