GAMBIER — Signs of progress on Kenyon College’s new library advanced to a new level Tuesday morning, with the building receiving its new name that is a renaming. Students and faculty joined Kenyon President Sean Decatur and workers from Smoot Construction, as a purple I-beam — signed by faculty, alumni and library supporters — was lifted by crane to a lofty perch.
The event signified library progress in what is known as a “topping” ceremony. Construction of a new library was made possible through a $75 million anonymous gift made in 2017, with many more project donations made since then on what will be a 95,000 square-foot library with six floors — four above ground and two at sub-level. The underground levels will include a parking lot that will be two and a half floors and about 100,000 square feet, with 280 parking spaces.
The new library, located along The Middle Path next to Gund Gallery, is expected to open by the spring of 2021.
“As we mark a milestone in the construction of this building of the future, we are delighted that our donors have again shown their deep and enduring love for Kenyon by honoring its rich past with the name Chalmers Library,” Decatur said.
The Chalmers name has ties to the former library. The original Chalmers Memorial Library opened in 1962 and was named for Gordon Keith Chalmers, Kenyon’s 13th president, who served from 1937 until his death in 1956, Decatur said. The new Chalmers library will also recognize his wife, Roberta Teale Swartz Chalmers, a poet, teacher and co-founder of The Kenyon Review.
Chalmers Library will anchor the West Quad, which will also include an interdisciplinary academic building and a new home for admissions and financial aid, part of the ongoing $300 million “Our Path Forward” capital campaign, which also includes priorities for expanding scholarships and learning beyond the classroom.
As of the ceremony, 16,124 Kenyon alumni, parents and friends have supported the campaign, pushing the total raised past $242 million, according to Mary Keister, Kenyon’s director of news media relations. Chair of the Board of Trustees Brackett B. Denniston III, a Class of 1969 alumnus, was among those who made a significant gift to support library construction.
“Choosing to invest in Chalmers Library was important to me, as it so clearly will benefit the Kenyon community and students — in new and innovative ways —for generations,” Denniston said. “We at Kenyon must continue to build the best campus in America and the world to attract the best and brightest to the Hill; this library will be a community center both for the great books and resources we treasure, but also as a hub for the best technology and collaborative, interdisciplinary learning.”
Members of the Kenyon community and Columbus-based Smoot Construction, the company responsible for the management and contracting of the project, were invited to sign the beam — painted Kenyon purple — before it was lifted into its permanent place within the structure.
The new Chalmers Library will feature state-of-the-art technology for undergraduate research, a concentration of student services such as the Career Development Office and classrooms that serve as laboratories for educational innovation, according to Keister. The library will be organized by discipline, with reading rooms where students can explore their field of study with easy access to primary sources within a collection.
Additionally, replacing the combined Olin and Chalmers libraries represents one of the largest available opportunities to reduce Kenyon’s carbon footprint, she said. The new library is designed with the LEED Gold certification in mind and will be significantly greener and more energy-efficient than the previous buildings.
Class of 1977 alumnus Matthew A. Winkler also invested in the new building and recalled its former incarnation.
“My time at Kenyon was the amalgam of every space on every floor of Chalmers Library,” he said. “I read Stendhal’s ‘The Red and the Black’ in a basement cubicle and The London Times in the main floor’s periodical room. I heard the admonishments of reference librarian Colonel [Owen T.] McCloskey entering and leaving the building.”
Winkler added, “I deciphered Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ in a chair by the highest, westernmost window overlooking the graveyard. I took my inspiration from the library where the quest to live long and well began.”