Cutting-edge libraries

New facility at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas showcases an automated storage and retrieval system

September 01, 2002 |

Although visitors to Las Vegas are accustomed to seeing futuristic-looking hotel/casinos, they might not expect to find an institutional building with a similar design style. There is one, however, not far from the Las Vegas Boulevard "Strip." It's the Lied Library on the 24,000-student campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

A large, curved sunshade, a curved façade with zinc cladding and vertical sunshades fabricated from perforated stainless steel give a sculptural appearance to the 302,000-sq.-ft. library. Inside the building, the high-tech theme is reinforced by a five-story atrium and the prominent location of an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS).

"We wanted to create an 'aha' space," says architect David Pugsley as he describes the atrium. Pugsley is a principal of Welles Pugsley Architects, Las Vegas, which designed the library with Leo A. Daly as design consultant. At the core of the atrium is an "information commons" with 100 computer stations. "There's a real focus on technology as you come into that space," Pugsley says. Off to one side, behind a two-story-high glass wall and highlighted with special lighting, is the ASRS. "The building impresses you as you walk in, and reveals itself as you take in the spaces," Pugsley adds. The library gradually opens up to visitors as they observe the books and stacks.

All major exterior materials are revealed at the main entry. Split-faced concrete masonry units blend with the exteriors of other buildings on the 337,000-sq.-ft. campus. Zinc was selected not only for its gray appearance, but also for its longevity and weather resistance, Pugsley notes. Since zinc is relatively inert, it is an environmentally friendly metal, he says.

The Internet age has made the process of information gathering less physical and largely invisible. But as long as it is a function of the building, "let's make it part of the spectacle," Pugsley says. The library is one of the first points of interest for campus visitors, who are particularly interested in watching the operation of the ASRS.

Cash versus capacity

After the library program was developed, "it became apparent there would be a budgetary and square footage collision," Pugsley says. The crux of the problem was how to provide the storage capacity required by a major university while staying within the $42.5 million budget. The possibility of incorporating the ASRS was proposed by Tom Findlay, lead designer with Daley. Findlay was involved with the installation of a similar system at California State University, Northridge in 1989.

The decision to use the ASRS eliminated the need to provide an additional 100,000 sq. ft. for traditional shelving. At a construction cost of about $140 per sq. ft., this reduced the project scope by about $14 million, less the $2.3 million cost of the ASRS system. It also resulted in a building with less area, which will translate to lower operating costs.

"The budget was always an up-front concern," Pugsley says. The project was funded by a $15 million contribution from the Lied Foundation, which has funded a number of capital improvement projects in Nevada. The State of Nevada provided the remainder of the financing.

System operation

To obtain an item from the library's inventory, computer access to its indexing system will describe the location of the book and whether it is available. If it is requested, the ASRS will retrieve the bin in which it is stored and move the bin to a library employee, who will remove the item and place it for pickup. Items are typically delivered from storage to the circulation desk in five to seven minutes.

Lied Library's ASRS has a capacity of 600,000 bound volumes, according to Kenneth Marks, UNLV's, dean of libraries. An estimated 150,000 volumes are already in the system, and about 10,000 are transferred into the system annually. The system is used to store four categories of information: journals published in 1994 and earlier; government documents; microfilm; and materials from special collections. Marks, who predicts that the campus should never need to build another library, says the system could be expanded to 1.2 million volumes by installing ASRS equipment in areas adjacent to the 5,000 sq. ft. it now occupies.


Lied Library’s automated storage and retrieval system has a current capacity of 600,000 bound volumes, which could be doubled through expansion of the system.

Marks says an ASAR is not a solution for every university library. But because of its ability to maximize storage capacity and to provide what amounts to on-site remote storage, this approach should be considered, he says.

The system requires only one-seventh as much space as would be needed to store a similar volume of items using conventional shelving, according to Todd Hodges, director of market development with the system's manufacturer, HK Systems, New Berlin, Wis. Each of the system's aisles is 37 storage bays long and 26 tiers high. The bins are 24 inches wide, 48 inches long and have heights ranging from 6 inches to 18 inches.

HK Systems, which has been supplying this technology for 40 years, originally developed it for material handling applications. Mechanically, the ASRS at Lied is similar to applications in other industries. Functionally, it's quite different in its capability to track library volumes and interface with the library cataloging system, Hodges says. He notes that ASAR systems are typically enclosed, and applauds the planners of Lied Library for making the system a visible feature of the building.

Robert Tibesar, president of general contractor Tibesar Construction, Las Vegas, assesses the project from a contractor perspective. "It's a unique building because each floor is different. It wasn't a cookie-cutter design," he says. The five-story atrium and the thick slab needed to support the ASRS were two of the atypical aspects of the construction. Tibesar also notes another challenge: "Any time you're moving between five floors and you get stopped on one, your work flow is disrupted."


An “information commons” consisting of 100 computer terminals is located in the five-story-high atrium.

Construction schedule lags

The project was completed more than a year behind its original schedule. "You would not have to look far to find all kinds of issues" that arose during construction, notes Marks. The first of several delays occurred during excavation of the area for the ASRS when a layer of hard calechi rock was fractured, exposing underground water. "Suddenly we had a swimming pool," he says. This resulted in a six-week delay.

At the time construction began, the library was the largest publicly-funded building ever built in Nevada. "On a project this large, you'll always find things when you get to the field that don't work as they did on paper," adds Daryl Privott, the library's building manager.

The project recorded more than 500 change-orders. Project communications were not enhanced by the fact that the owner, the state Public Works Board, is headquartered in Reno, more than 400 miles from the project site.

The execution of firestopping at wall openings for pipes and structural members is an issue that remains unresolved. According to Tibesar, the design placed fire walls too close to steel beams, not leaving enough room to firestop and caulk — "so we had to zig-zag around the beam." Architect Pugsley says the contractor made a "somewhat unilateral decision" to build firewalls differently than shown on the documents, which led to rework.

Also remaining to be resolved is whether some work items constituted "extras." "As we went along, it seemed clear what was an extra and what wasn't," Tibesar says. "With hindsight, people will say 'we shouldn't have paid for that.'"

Tibesar says his company was paid to extend the job beyond the original completion date. However, subcontractors have filed claims for additional compensation on the basis that they had been on the project longer than expected, and therefore unable to pursue other work. "It just got ugly," Tibesar says. These unresolved issues have hampered Tibesar's ability to bond other projects.

Students acknowledge that the library has displaced the student union as the place for them to congregate. Marks says Lied's traffic is 90% higher than for the former library, which is being renovated to serve the university's business school.

"What is very gratifying is that even with the delay, and all the natural anxiety that surrounds bringing any building on line, the library has been spectacularly successful — and it works," Marks adds. "Having worked in five different academic libraries, this is the first one in which the air conditioning and heating work throughout the entire building. So from a functional standpoint, I don't think there's a better library in the country."

Construction costs

Bonds and insurance $330,879
Mobilization 101,207
General conditions 893,765
Telecommunications allowance 60,000
Partnering allowance 10,000
Demolition and repairs 13,872
Surveying and staking 11,288
Striping 281
Chain-link fence 26,287
Grading and paving 236,735
Underground utilities 239,031
Termite control 9,194
Landscape and irrigation 250,191
Reinforcing steel 231,871
Building concrete 1,672,864
Site concrete 325,760
Masonry and stone veneer 928,883
Structural and misc. steel 8,681,060
Rough carpentry 20,500
Architectural woodwork 339,379
Composition flooring 24,516
Insulation 103,478
Firestopping 184,152
Metal roofing and siding 922,415
Elastomeric roofing 225,178
Joint sealants 23,954
Doors, frames and hardware 385,753
Overhead coiling doors 16,586
Glass and glazing 1,990,546
Metal studs; drywall; plaster 3,754,746
Fireproofing 427,821
Painting 420,859
Acoustical 467,848
Flooring 1,351,861
Access flooring 27,581
Toilet partitions, lockers 104,572
Specialty signage 158,287
Fire extinguisher cabinets 5,366
Site furnishings and bike racks 25,427
Corner guards 9,145
Display boards and projection screens 17,313
Upholstered booth seating 63,969
Library material management system 144,032
Storage and retrieval system 2,241,948
Elevators and escalators 776,978
Fire sprinkler protection system 715,897
Complete mechanical 4,237,126
Temperature controls 1,571,445
Testing and balancing 55,927
Electrical 4,252,738
Change orders, 1-30 924,942
TOTAL $41,407,800

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