New Bayport-Blue Point Public Library (St. Ursula Convent Adaptive Re-Use)

In September 2018, the Bayport-Blue Point Library Board of Trustees reached an agreement to purchase the St. Ursula Convent for $3.65 million from the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. The agreement to buy the 8.27-acre property in Blue Point was contingent upon the approval by Bayport-Blue Point School District residents; the overall $16.85-million plan to purchase and convert the existing St. Ursula Center into a new community Library was approved in a public referendum on December 6, 2018. The sale of the property to the Bayport-Blue Point Library was finalized in February 2019.

Over the course of the year 2018, BBS worked with the library board, its staff, and multiple community groups to establish a program for the proposed library expansion – independent of site/location. Ultimately derived as the most feasible, the plan (which was ultimately presented to voters) was to acquire the existing St. Ursula Center and to relocate the existing Library facilities and programs into that facility while providing for a complete interior renovation, a new exterior front entry addition, and major site improvements. After the renovations, the existing library building on Blue Point Avenue was to be vacated and eventually sold off.

With various improvements and multiple building additions over the years, the Library reached its capacity at the existing facility, located just a couple of blocks from the St. Ursula Convent. It became apparent that the Library building would not be able to effectively meet the growing needs of the Bayport-Blue Point community and to accommodate local patrons of varying ages within the available building space. At the same time, the Library was facing significant repairs and code compliance alterations. A decision was made to explore the feasibility of potential solutions which would define the future of the Library as a community resource.

From the design perspective, BBS’s goal was to maintain the visual vernacular of the existing 28,573-sq. ft. Convent and the site alike – as they had peacefully existed within its quiet, residential neighborhood for almost forty years. Although not a historic facility, the Convent’s quaint character defined minor exterior modifications for BBS, which included a new entry vestibule with accessible automated doors, a small seating area, and a relief space for the main lobby. A small portico was designed with a seating area, book drop, new steps, an ADA accessible ramp, planters, and a new flag pole.

As presented to voters, the new Library project proposed a complete interior renovation of the St. Ursula Center including new walls, interior doors, vision panels, interior storefront systems, flooring, ceilings, trim, casework, furnishings, equipment, lighting, plumbing, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, controls, fixtures, toilet rooms, security system, technology implementation, complete fire suppression (sprinkler) system, and a new elevator. The work scope also assumed full demolition of same to accommodate the new construction.

Structural modifications were required throughout the building to accommodate loading requirements of book stacks and the new mechanical equipment in the attic. The existing mechanical system was removed in its entirety and a new system provided to comply with all current applicable building codes. The most significant structural modification occurred in the two-story adult library volume where part of the second floor was removed, and the remaining floor area converted to a mezzanine.

The extent of site improvements primarily pertained to repaving and expanding the existing parking lot to accommodate additional library traffic, provide ADA accessibility throughout, and miscellaneous site improvements and lighting. As per New York State Education Department (NYSED) requlations, BBS integrated a fire access road into the parking lot design and the landscape around the building.  New sidewalks, curb cuts, and crosswalks for ADA accessibility were provided from the parking lot.

Located to the west of the proposed Library, an enclosed children’s play area was proposed for exterior programs and activities in a secure, soft-scape environment. An adult reading garden delivers a hybrid of hard- and soft-scape seating solutions and surfaces.  Miscellaneous landscaping improvements such as a gazebo for events, program platforms, and play areas were designed to complement the proposed building with its new courtyards and reading gardens.  As part of maintaining the history and appearance of the Convent, all existing landscape elements, statues, fences, and sculptures remained as part of the design for the property, including the existing cemetery.