EASTHAM — Its architects proposed a purpose to practically every nook and cranny of the Eastham Public Library — a sunlit pondside edifice unveiled in 2016. Seven years later, it’s proving to be a design that satisfies.
“We used warm materials, materials that are sympathetic of the Outer Cape style and context,” says Matt Oudens of Oudens Ello Architecture, the Boston firm that designed the renovation. Maple and pine flooring and exposed wooden beams (they’re “glulam” — engineered of bonded wood laminations), for example, help make the contemporary design feel somehow both grand and friendly.
Oudens says that one of his team’s priorities was designing the roughly 17,000-square-foot addition in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Eastham resident Dale Wade was initially skeptical of the renovation for exactly this reason. “I wasn’t fond of the drawings,” she remembers, because “they seemed out of scale and too modern.”
The plan called for a 300-square-foot room from the library’s initial construction in 1897 to be preserved cheek-by-jowl with the new building, and Wade remembers thinking the new design would overwhelm “the little remainder of the library that they were going to keep.”
The new wood-shingled façade pleased her, though. And as soon as Wade walked in, she was swayed by the interior. Although she mainly uses the online catalog to access books on tape, she’s a regular visitor now, coming in to read periodicals by the fireplace.
Wade is also a member of the Eastham Library Art Committee. The building’s scale has answered a community need for exhibition space for creators who don’t have an outlet, she says. A repurposed books exhibit has become one of the library’s anticipated events.
The renovation, which cost $9.6 million and replaced the 8,000-square-foot annex constructed in 1980, received $4.3 million from a Mass. Public Library Construction Program grant from the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners.
That covered 45 percent of the costs. Most of the rest of the funding was municipal, though a group including trustees created the Eastham Library Building Fund, a nonprofit that paid for furniture and signage. Individual donors also contributed.
From the street, the building appears to have an unassuming single story. But the design succeeds at a Mary Poppins-like feat of expanding once you’re inside it.
Oudens credits the setting for some of that feeling. Two things he said he wanted library visitors to be in touch with at all times: the outdoors and “useful space.”
At the north end of the building, an airy reading room includes floor-to-ceiling windows and comfy armchairs that make it a scenic place to read. Homey touches counterbalance the scale of the space. In one corner, an indoor birding station equipped with binoculars, a monocular, and an Eastern bird field guide awaits. The gas fireplace is on the adjacent wall.
As idyllic as it looks, the site was challenging to build on, says Oudens.
A first move was to relocate the parking lot, which was formerly situated between the building and the kettle pond. Now it’s on a road-abutting parcel acquired by the town, a move that allowed for restoration of the wetland area, according to Oudens.
The lower level, which isn’t visible from the street, includes windows that take advantage of the hill beside the lake. A children’s room with curving bookshelves overlooks a grassy area outside. That’s become the place for a weekly preschool story hour, but children’s use of the space isn’t contingent on weather, says Ruth Gail Cohen, a retired teacher and library volunteer who’s also on the board of the library’s friends. “On a rainy day in the summer,” she says, “it’s a real haven for parents and grandparents.”
When the library first opened, Cohen says, “I was just gob-smacked.” After the breaking-in period, she’s still a fan. “I’m so proud of it,” she says.
The south-facing roofs hold solar panels that generate all the energy the library uses. And with the help of a daylight dimming system — sensors register how much natural light is entering the building and adjust artificial lighting accordingly — energy consumption is reduced.
The library, Oudens says, is intended to be a community space that’s more than just a place to read. And that is proving to be the case. A device at the door counted 49,041 visitors in 2022, says Library Director Melanie McKenzie.
The main flaw of the new library is that “we didn’t think about how much storage space we could possibly need,” says Debbie Abbott, president of the friends of the library. The flip side of the focus on access and public use left little attention to book carts and bulletin boards — things that keep wheels turning behind the scenes.
Certain aspects of the library may work a bit too well. Like other municipal buildings, the library is on OpenCape’s high-speed internet network. Signs in the parking lot asking patrons to turn off their headlights were installed after neighbors spoke up, McKenzie said. But wi-fi is, after all, an important community service out here.
The library is also equipped with a backup generator that powers its community spaces. When residents’ electricity goes out, the library goes into overdrive. People come for a cup of coffee, to charge their phones, and simply to see each other. Once, Oudens says, when people sought refuge during a power outage, there was an impromptu ukulele concert.