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A stronger base for the Eccles Health Sciences Library

Maybe you’ve heard the rumblings on campus. The health sciences library is getting a structural adjustment.

Dedicated in October 1971, the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL) made the University of Utah a hub of medical knowledge and advancement.  More than 50 years later, EHSL continues to contribute to the success of health professionals, students, researchers, and the community, by pioneering new ideas, technologies and innovative partnerships.

EHSL will soon undergo a seismic retrofit to make it more resilient to earthquakes, allowing the library to continue serving the health sciences community for decades to come.

This multi-phased project will begin in early April 2023. It will run concurrently with the construction of the new Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine building.

EHSL will remain open during construction

Although the retrofit will disrupt library visitors between 7 a.m.-4 p.m., the main issue will be noise, not lack of access. Seventy-five percent of the building will be useable for library staff and visitors.

As for the noise, the library will have noise-canceling headphones available for checkout for visitors to use. Visitors will notice little to no disruption on weekdays after 4 p.m. and on weekends.

“The plan is to stay in the building and have services remain open so we can continue to provide that space for collaboration, consultation and learning,” said Heidi Greenberg, EHSL’s associate director of operations and logistics. “It’s very important that the library is open during construction, which is why we opted to do the project in a multi-phased approach.”

Retrofit brings needed changes and upgrades

EHSL is one of several buildings across campus that requires some level of earthquake retrofitting.

“EHSL was built in the late sixties, early seventies,” said EHSL’s Executive Director, Catherine Soehner. “More than fifty years later, there’s a lot more that can be done to make buildings less vulnerable during an earthquake. We are very excited about what this will do for our building in both the long and short term.”

A seismic retrofit on a fifty-year-old building is no small feat. Luckily, an exceptional, multidisciplinary team is tackling the project together.

Leaders from EHSL; the U’s Planning, Design and Construction Department; and the Facilities Department have partnered with Studio LP, a Salt Lake City-based architecture firm to complete the project.

A recent facility condition assessment on EHSL showed that a seismic retrofit would help extend the life of the library for decades to come.

“The seismic modeling compared to 40 years ago is much more advanced,” said Dawn Wagner, a construction project manager at the U. “Knowledge and technology have been enhanced since that time, and the building codes have been rewritten or updated to make our buildings safer and more resilient.”

Because of the shape of the library, there are two areas of focus for the seismic upgrade – the bulk of the building that runs north to south, and a smaller portion (the atrium) that extends further east.

“One of the main things is the core in the north side of the building,” said Libby Haslam, a Studio LP architect. “The core will be a concrete shaft with twelve-inch walls that starts at the ground level and goes through each floor.”

During a seismic event, the core will absorb lateral loads that come from the earthquake, which will help prevent the building from twisting and buckling.

Floor plan adjustments will be made to accommodate the core. That means the core itself will do more than just provide support during a seismic event. It will also make room for other much-needed updates and adjustments to the library’s layout.

Upgrades keep library users in mind

“Although the seismic upgrade is the main goal, the retrofit will also allow us to move the restrooms into the center of the building, and they will be in the same place on every floor,” said Soehner. “For wayfinding, this will be wonderful. It will also open up space on the exterior walls where the bathrooms currently sit, allowing us to create more study space for students, faculty, and anyone else who visits the library.”

A new ADA-compliant elevator will also be built into the core, along with lactation space, and the building’s electrical and internet epicenter. Because of the historic nature of EHSL, keeping the original exterior largely intact is a priority. Thanks to collaboration and communication across the team, the exterior will see only minor changes.

“The nice part about the designer and the users getting involved in a project like this is that the users can shed some light on what happens day in and day out inside the building,” said Derek Peterson, health sciences facility manager. “There’s usually a big gap between the designers and the users, so having these conversations together was much more conducive to finding the best design possible while making the building as safe as possible.”

The EHSL seismic retrofit project will be completed in June 2024.