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The reopening of the Stanley Milner branch: don't judge a library by its cover

The long-awaited Stanley Milner branch of the Edmonton Public Library reopened Thursday.

The revamped Stanley A. Milner branch of the Edmonton Public Library opened its doors to the public once again last week.

It's been a few years since the downtown core facility shuttered for some much needed work, not the least of which was a massive facelift. Say what you will about the sharp, silvery lines of the updated Milner but it does make its presence known. If you haven't seen the ultramodern grey structure (with its angled windows and forward-projecting face like a pyramid tipping north) then perhaps you've heard the talk. Churchill Square now has the pyramid of Edmonton City Hall to the north, the silvery curves of the Art Gallery of Alberta, the brick-and-glass temple of the Winspear Centre, the coppered aquarium of the Citadel Theatre, and now this.

Architect Stephen Teeple of Teeple Architects described the function of the design as more than a retrofit for the "forward-thinking" EPL, since the exterior does more than cap over the old concrete Milner that still resides inside - with its own extensive renos, of course.

"The EPL is all about the community. It's all about reaching out to the community and bringing people in. This building is probably very different than all other libraries because it's actually about reaching out ... drawing people into the space," he explained during a press conference in advance of the facility's Thursday reopening to the public.

Once people are in the space, they'll get a much more complete impression of the $85M dollars' worth of work that was done over the last three-and-a-half years. If you remember the quickly-cramped vestibule of the old structure then perhaps it's best left as a memory. The entrance to the building is a wide open interior courtyard of light and dazzle, especially with its multi-storey, multi-million dollar interactive computer screen called 'The Wall' that will display a variety of moving computerized images including sea creatures in the ocean and a dinosaur park. The screen is the largest in North America.

Going past that, the new library has everything else under the sun:

  • a children’s library that is more than triple the original space (now at 11,000-plus square feet) with an indoor playground, a giant floor piano, and a dedicated Children’s Makerspace with hands-on Science, Technology, Art, Engineering and Math (STEAM) activities like coding, robotics, and digital creation (including a green screen wall for video production), plus a wall of Lego trays just waiting for new architects to get their hands on;
  • a massive adult Makerspace bursting at 10,000 square feet with multiple 3D printers, vinyl cutter, laser cutter, digital illustration, sound and video production (with recording studios), robotics, sewing station, t-shirt press, bookmaking equipment, CNC mill, and more hands-on power tools inside the safety conscious room called the Fab Lab;
  • a computer gaming room called Gamerspace with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, multiple Alienware-driven stations, Nintendo Switch, rocker chairs, two retro videogame cabinets (loaded with thousands of the old greats), and a massive couch in front of a big screen for people of all ages to enjoy;
  • an Indigenous gathering space called PÎYÊSÎW WÂSKÂHIKAN (Thunderbird House) for people of all cultures to share on the main floor. The cultural space is the first public space in the city to support smudging;
  • the new Capital City Art Gallery plus tons of new and older artworks on the wall by artists including George Littlechild, Alex Janvier, Peter von Tiesenhausen, and many more including a new art mural by Ricardo Copado called The Journey Beyond: Boundaries of Imagination;
  • increased community meeting spaces with more than 28,000 square feet;
  • expanded outreach services thanks to the Robert Tegler Trust Foundation where clients will be able to meet with EPL's social workers to discuss settlement services, housing supports, financial empowerment, and other counseling services by drop-in and by appointment;
  • increased computer/wireless spaces with over 70 public computers available (EPL is currently the number one place in Edmonton to access free public computers, according to the library);
  • the EPL Kitchen (coming soon);
  • the newly renovated Muttart Theatre with improved access to the LRT and Churchill Square;
  • and also there are books, CDs, movies, and games with more than 150,000 items in the collection, including 10,000 new items, not to mention its new Capital City Press Collection (celebrating local authors).

The facility is filled with light, natural and otherwise. If the many exciting new features of the library don't open your eyes to the possibilities then perhaps the 600-plus windows will.

"Our revitalized building will completely redefine how our city views and interacts with their public library," said Pilar Martinez, EPL's CEO, in a prepared news release.

“We anticipate Edmontonians will be pleasantly surprised and thrilled when they see our revitalized library and all that it offers. It’s a space packed full of learning opportunities and innovation and will quickly become the vibrant community hub in our city we have always imagined.”

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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