Aaron Kimsey
Program Manager
Public Works Department

Mailing Address
555 Liberty St. SE
Room 325
Salem, OR 97301-3513


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Salem Public Library Seismic and Safety Upgrade Project

Over a year and a half, between early 2020 and late 2021, renovations to the 1972 Salem Public Library  building have made it safer in an earthquake, more accessible inside and around the exterior of the building, and completed other critical improvements including:

  • Systems updates (heating, cooling, plumbing, electrical, roof)
  • Solar panels
  • More windows
  • Upgrades to the parkade

While we provided robust online services throughout the extensive renovation project, the COVID 19 pandemic resulted in closure of in-person services during most of the renovation. Gradually, we resumed more activities, including book check-outs through curbside services. Then, on October 1, 2021, we opened to the public with limited hours and social distancing rules. Through the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022, we have gradually resumed our regular services and added more services, including a new selection of study rooms.

Current Library Hours and Locations

About the Project

In November 2017, Salem voters passed General Obligation Bond Measure 24-432 for $18.6 million to address seismic, safety, accessibility and system improvements to the Salem Public Library.

The original, 1972 building was built before scientists discovered that a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could impact the Salem region. A 2014 City-commissioned engineering study by the Portland firm BergerABAM, found that the library and parking structure don't meet life safety standards and library users, staff, and volunteers would be at risk in a major earthquake.

A seismic retrofit was chosen to increase life safety during an earthquake. Improved accessibility and cost-saving upgrades to the building's systems were also part of the project.

Residents Helped Shape the Project

Several opportunities were provided through the planning process for residents to get involved and share their opinions, including:

  • February 19, 2019: Community Open House kicked off the design process and residents shared ideas about what we treasure about the Library building and what we hope could be improved. An online and paper survey was made available before and after the Open House to gather input from those unable to join the community conversation.
  • April 30, 2019: Community Open House at the Library to share what we've learned and gather input on some of the initial design ideas.
  • October 26, 2019: Community Open House to share how your ideas influenced the preliminary design for the Salem Public Library Renovation.

Project schedule

The project was completed in three distinct phases:

  • Design - complete. The City of Salem partnered on the renovation with Howard S. Wright Construction and Hacker Architects, experts in library design. Their challenge was to finish the project within budget in a busy and expensive construction market, finding a seismic retrofit solution that didn't adversely impact the library space. The team had worked together with other communities on library design and construction projects successfully in the past including the Vancouver Community Library, Hillsboro Shute Park Library, and Sherwood Civic Center. The outcome of their work in Salem is a more open, accessible library with increased safety in the event of an earthquake.
  • Temporary Library Relocation – ended September 1, 2021.
  • Construction – complete. Work began in early 2020.

More about Salem Public Library Seismic and Safety Upgrade

Salem Public Library serves more than 165,000 people in the Salem area annually and maintains a collection of 337,000 items. Statistics show 1,600 people check out 3,700 books and library materials each day. The Library hosts more than 2,000 programs for children, teens, and adults each year, and makes five meeting rooms and Loucks Auditorium available for community members to host their events. This project includes the following improvements:

Making the Library Structurally Sound
The Library and adjacent parking structure were built before scientists discovered that a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake could impact the Salem region. In 2014, the City commissioned an engineering study that found the Library and parking structure did not meet standards for life safety. Without the 2020-2021 improvements, library users, staff, and volunteers would have been at risk in a major earthquake.

Making the Library Accessible
The 1972 building was built before ADA requirements. Improvements to the building required it be brought into ADA compliance. These improvements now allow the library to provide improved services and accessibility for all patrons.

Other Upgrades

  • Replacing library shelves designed in the 1950s that would not have been able to withstand the effect of a major earthquake and could not have been repaired or retrofitted.
  • Replacing security cameras and audio system that were at the end of their useful lives.
  • The project also replaced or repaired multiple building systems. Electrical wiring, plumbing, and ducting systems were old and were replaced by the installation of the seismic strengthening elements. Replacing these systems will extend the library building's useful life and reduce annual maintenance costs.

Design-Build Contracting Method

An alternative contracting method, known as Progressive Design Build, was approved by the Salem City Council for the Library Renovation Project in October 2018.

In Progressive Design Build, there is a single contract between the City and general contractor and the architect contracts directly with the general contractor.

However, unlike a traditional design-build method where the general contractor proposes a single design solution, Progressive Design Build features a collaborative design process from the outset where the design solution is developed by the general contractor's team and the owner.

This benefited the project in several ways. The design process benefitted from closer team coordination at the beginning of the project. The team was about to incorporate critical general contractor input on the structural solution, sequence of activities, and how best to maintain Library services.

We also benefitted from real-time evaluation of how market conditions were impacting the cost of construction. Finally, this method reduced the risks of cost arising from lack of coordination between the designer and general contractor, since they were bound by a single contract to the City.