Wednesday, March 20, 2013


 The Cuyahoga County Library Board is making plans to abandon the historic Telling Mansion Library in South Euclid-Lyndhurst and to replace it with a new, more expensive facility further from the center of the communities it serves.  This move would be a great loss for the residents of South Euclid, Lyndhurst, and all Northeast Ohio.

Built in 1928, the Telling Mansion Library is the former home of William Telling, a South Euclid resident, businessman, and financier. The Library is a beautiful structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Mansion is a part of the legacy of the city of South Euclid, lending unique character to this community, and making it stand out among other Cleveland suburbs. 

Reading Garden. 

The Telling Mansion Library was cited by USA Today as one of “10 Great Places to Find a Nook and Read a Book.”  Author Nancy Pearl described the facility this way:

"The mansion is like a dream of a library with beautiful leaded windows, a reading garden with a fountain, and 26 different rooms.  Among them: a greenhouse, an aviary, and a cozy study.  Although the past is very much alive here, the needs of present-day library users—for new books, Internet access, discussion groups, and homework help—are not neglected."  

According to Branch Manager Steven Haynie, the Telling Mansion must be abandoned because it does not have “a layout conducive to public library service for the 21st century.”  The Library Board also claims that a new building is needed to reduce staffing requirements, provide more computer terminals, and provide larger meeting rooms for the public.  The Board plans to spend $12 million to replace the existing library. 
§   Renovation of the Telling Mansion—including energy upgrades and ADA accessibility modifications—is estimated to cost $5.6 million.  It seems that the concerns of the Library Board could be addressed more economically by upgrading the existing facility, and then building an addition to house functions such as meeting rooms and tech centers, and at far less cost than $12 million.

This alone should give pause to all involved in the process.  What is the justification for the unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer dollars, and getting a less interesting building in return?

§   The proposed new library will be located on Green Road.  This location is further from the center of South Euclid and entirely outside the boundaries of Lyndhurst.  The Telling Mansion is now just a ½ mile, or an easy 10 minute walk, from Memorial Junior High School and Brush High School.  The Green Road site is 1-½ miles from the schools, or a half hour walk.  Students would be much less likely to make this trek on foot, thus becoming more dependent on being driven by their parents or on driving themselves.

§   The proposed library location is also less accessible by transit than the current location.  The Telling Mansion is on the RTA’s Number 9 Bus route, with service running multiple times per hour, seven days a week.  In contrast, the Green Road site is served by RTA’s Number 34 Bus, which runs only once per hour, and without evening or weekend coverage.  The new library will be less accessible to those in the community who wish to use transit, and to those without cars, such as the young, the elderly, and the poor.

§   The Library Board wants the new library to meet LEED sustainable building standards.  But the renovation of existing structures is an equally valid green building strategy.  The benefit of renovation is that it conserves the energy and resources already embodied in the existing structure.  This includes the materials in the building, the energy expended to manufacture those materials, and also the energy used to erect the building in the first place. 

A recent rigorous study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation concluded: “It can take between 10 and 80 years for a new, energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative energy and climate change impacts caused in the construction process.”1 

In a way, extending the life of historic buildings is a low-tech method of carbon sequestration, as the CO2 used in building these structures was released into the atmosphere long ago.

§   In addition to the ‘greenness’ of the building itself, location also matters when evaluating the overall sustainability of any structure.  Walkscore is an online metric which rates any address based on how easy it is to get around as a pedestrian.  Places are rated on a scale from 0 (Almost all daily errands require a car) to 100 (Walker’s Paradise:  Daily errands can be accomplished on foot.)  The Walkscore for the Telling Mansion is 66, which is rated as “Somewhat Walkable.”  The Walkscore for the proposed library site on Green Road drops to only 45, which is described as “Car Dependent.”  

Moving the library to the periphery of the two communities it serves, and off the well-trafficked RTA bus line, will mean residents will have to drive further to get to the building.  Longer car trips mean more carbon emissions.  LEED certification alone does not guarantee that a building is as sustainable as it can be.  A centralized location and access to multiple transit modes—car, bus, biking, walking—also contribute to a building’s holistic sustainability.  

 Main Entry Hall

Perhaps the most compelling reason to keep the library in this historic structure is this:  The Telling Mansion is an irreplaceable gem.  A new library building will  not have the quality, the history, and unique identity that the Mansion does.  The Telling Mansion has Character.  The new library most likely will not.

 Two exterior follies that are part of the Telling Mansion.

Parma Library Branch by GPD Group. (Source: Plain Dealer)

Renderings of the proposed replacement South Euclid-Lyndhurst library building are not yet available.  But GPD Group of Akron, the firm that is doing the planning for the Green Road site, also designed the Parma Branch, shown above.  Judging by the previous work of this firm, and by the other new branches built by the Library Board over the last several years, one can get a sense of what the proposed new library might look like.

Warrensville Heights Library Branch. (Source: Plain Dealer)

Does the above rendering depict a bank?  A health club?  A corporate headquarters?  It’s really hard to tell WHAT kind of function goes on inside; the building is so inscrutable in expression.  Is there anything about this structure that tells the passerby that it is a Civic building, a building for the benefit of the public? 

Parma Snow Library Branch. (Source: Plain Dealer)

The Parma Snow Branch resorted to putting the word “Library” on the front of the new structure to clear up any ambiguity about the building’s function.

There is also the question of Authenticity of Place in the new libraries that the County Library system is building.  Is there anything about these structures that tell you that they are in Northeast Ohio?  The new branches, in form and material, feel generic.  They look as if they could just as well have been built in Portland or Phoenix or Charlotte

Telling Mansion Rear Elevation

The Telling Mansion (while, admittedly, is a re-creation of an English manor house) could probably not be found in the cities listed above.  

North Royalton Library Branch. (Source: Plain Dealer)

In addition, the new libraries built by the County Library System all feel like they are interchangeable.  What distinguishes the North Royalton branch from the Warrensville Heights and Parma branches?  These are unique communities with their own special histories.  Why don’t the unique qualities of these places inform the architectural expression of their library buildings?

Our buildings should speak to the history and the culture that is special to each of our communities.  This is not a discussion about architectural “style.”  The new libraries can be modern or traditional in expression.  Designers are free to choose the architectural language that is appropriate to each particular project and community.  But our architecture should also reflect the accumulated knowledge of building traditions and materials that have proven themselves to be durable over time, and well-suited to the climate that is distinct to Northeast Ohio

Garfield Heights Library Branch. (Source: Plain Dealer)

Finally, is there anything in the renderings of these new facilities that implies there will be a comfortable place to be found within?  A spot to sit by a leaded-glass window, or under a peacock feather ceiling, and read a book or work on your laptop?

A sunny window spot (clockwise from above left), stained glass in the Main Stair Hall, a reading room (the former Breakfast Room) with peacock feather ceiling treatment.   

What are the chances that we are going to be able to speak about the new South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library facility in the same glowing prose that author Nancy Pearl of USA Today showered on the Telling Mansion, as quoted at the beginning of this post? 

Before the library construction process proceeds further, the prudent course would be to conduct a clear cost-benefit study comparing renovation to new construction, including construction costs and long-term operating costs.  After a thorough and transparent analysis, this information should be presented to the public.  Then the informed citizens of South Euclid and Lyndhurst should be allowed the chance to vote on the future of their library building. 

A Save the Telling Mansion Facebook group has formed to protest the relocation of the library.  Members of the group have gathered 1,700 signatures on a petition
opposing the relocation.  They have been protesting outside the mansion on a regular basis.  And they have been attending City Council meetings and letting their voices be heard.  Is there a corresponding group in favor of relocation?  Have they started a petition?  Have they been contacting their public officials?  If so, let all voices be heard, and let a decision be made by the members of the community in the full light of day.

The Cuyahoga County Library system is funded by the people.  The Library Board exists to represent the will of the people.  The citizens and library users of these two communities should be allowed to determine their own fate, rather than have it dictated to them by a bureaucratic entity.

The planning process for the new library is well under way.  The land on Green Road has been purchased; preliminary traffic studies and site plans have been prepared.  But architectural contracts can be broken.  Land can be sold.  It is never too late to do the right thing, and it is definitely never too late to save the taxpayers some $6 million.

This writing is reminiscent of my previous posts on the demolition of the School of the Arts and John Marshall High School

We seem to want to continuously destroy our past, tear down our historic buildings, and to trade irreplaceable craftsmanship for . . . mediocre, supposedly efficient, dubiously ‘green’ new buildings.  We are abandoning our unique heritage and the varied character of our communities in exchange for expedience and efficiency.  And we are doing so at an alarming rate.

  Irreplaceable Craftsmanship.

Branch Manager Haynie states that the Library System “cannot justify continuing to operate in a building that costs more but delivers less.”  But this begs the question:  Upon what criteria is the Library Board measuring costs, and the resulting value delivered? 

The beautiful and historic Telling Mansion Library brings intangible but real benefits to the quality of life in South Euclid and Lyndhurst.

We must take a stand for our history, our heritage, and our community.

1 Kaid Benfield, “The green dividend from reusing older buildings.” National Resource Defense Council Sustainable Communities blog, 24 January 2012.