Historical Refinement

The Truman Library renovation improves circulation and sight lines
August 11, 2010

A renovation project doesn't necessarily result in a conspicuous change of appearance. A case in point is the renovation of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., on which BD&C's Reconstruction Project Awards judges bestowed a Merit Award.

Although the project increased the size of the 46-year-old facility by only 4,365 sq. ft., it has improved circulation for visitors and enabled the library/museum to expand its community outreach capabilities. New construction represented 15% of the project's $10.5 million hard construction cost.

Approaching the main entrance, it is hard to detect a difference in appearance. "We intentionally did not try to change the look of the historic façade," says Dennis Strait, design principal with the project's architect, Kansas City, Mo.-based Gould Evans Goodman Associates. Stonework was restored, or replaced if necessary.

The lobby also has a familiar look, with Thomas Hart Benton's mural Independence and the Opening of the West surmounting and extending to either side of a doorway. However, lighting, casework, millwork, and finishes have been upgraded.

Backtracking banished

Renovation benefits start to become apparent as visitors reach the Presidential Gallery. By providing a direct connection to the lobby, a new corridor eliminates the tyranny of walking through a sequence of spaces and having no alternative but to return via the same route.

In the Presidential Gallery, visitors follow a continuous pattern, returning through new space. "This allows visitors to flow as they would in a contemporary gallery, without backtracking," Strait adds.

Two areas of equal size — 1,350-sq.-ft. — are the largest additions resulting from the renovation. The Legacy Gallery is on the first floor, and the Press Room for the library's White House Decision Center educational program is directly beneath it on the lower level. The remaining additions were a 540-sq.-ft. corridor connecting the Legacy Gallery to the East Wing; a 900-sq.-ft. expansion of pre-function area adjacent to the East Wing conference rooms; and a 225-sq.-ft. stair tower addition to increase egress capacity.

The new Legacy Gallery, located in a triangular addition that extends slightly into the courtyard, gives visitors a place to relax and to contemplate on what they have learned about Truman era history. A life-size bronze statue of Truman faces a window that provides views of a relocated Eternal Flame and the gravesites of Truman and his wife, Bess.

Visitors now have direct views from the Legacy Gallery into the courtyard. "Previously, you could find your way to the courtyard if you followed the signs, but you wouldn't see the courtyard until you actually reached the glass doors that lead to it," Strait says. "Within the building there's now a major space with a major view of the courtyard."

The gift shop was enlarged from 400 sq. ft. to 900 sq. ft. through the appropriation of former corridor space.

New seating, carpeting, and wall treatments were provided for the auditorium.

The new Press Room provides a venue for the White House Decision Center program, an example of the library's renewed emphasis on community outreach. Groups of up to 64 middle school or high school students gather to elect a president and appoint members of the President's Cabinet. They view exhibits in the Presidential Gallery to learn about the historic events that occurred during Truman's presidency. The students develop recommendations for presidential action, and conclude their visit by conducting a press conference to explain the rationale behind them.

Part of the two-story original gallery was infilled to create a new orientation theater where an introductory film traces Truman's life from boyhood days on the farm to his swearing-in as President. Restored Chrysler limousines used by Truman will be among items on display in a gallery space being completed.

A number of project elements involved normal replacement items. For example, HVAC work, at $1.9 million, was the largest single item.

"The building was at a point [in its life] where it needed rejuvenation," Strait observes. Coincidentally, library officials decided to make it a more vibrant learning center that would be regarded as more than just a documents repository.

Renovation boosts attendance

The library opened in 1957. Attendance has increased about 20% since the renovation was completed in January 2002. About 120,000 visited Truman Library in the past year.

Gould Evans Goodman's work that led to its eventual commission for the Truman Library renovation began in the early 1990s, when the firm received a contract from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to evaluate needed repairs at Truman and other presidential libraries.

Walton Construction of Kansas City was general contractor for the project, which received $8 million of federal funds. More than $15 million of private funds underwrote the cost of exhibits.

GSA project manager Ann Marie Sweet-Abshire says the project has given the Truman Library a livelier atmosphere and made it able to play a more interactive role with the public.

Abshire, who has been involved with renovations of three other presidential libraries, says the age of a facility and the initiatives taken by the library itself are two of the primary factors considered in deciding the priority for renovation. The number of presidential libraries will increase to 12 next year when the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark., is completed.