WKU unveils design plans for The Commons at Helm Library

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – The building that is home to Helm Library on the campus of Western Kentucky University has stood since 1931.

Before it was even a library, the building was used as a gymnasium, often referred to as “The Big Red Barn” because it hosted WKU basketball games.

It’s changed a lot since those days, and it’s about to change even more in just a few months.

“We’re going to be the ‘it’ place,” said Susann deVries, Dean of WKU Libraries. “We’re going to be the buzz of all the activity at the top of the Hill.”

Beginning at the conclusion of the Spring 2019 semester, Helm Library will receive a massive face lift, transforming into the newly designed “The WKU Commons at Helm Library.”

The $35 million project will turn the library into a space where students, staff, and faculty can join together to eat, meet, study, and collaborate.

The construction will be funded through a partnership between Aramark/Restaurant Group and University Libraries. Funding was included as part of the university’s dining services contract.

It will feature an open floor plan with multiple dining options, as well as group study areas for students to utilize.

“Students that we bring in now as first year students expect to be able to gather together to get a cup of coffee, to work on projects,” said WKU President Timothy C. Caboni. “Libraries are a little noisier than they used to be, and I think what we’ve done is instead of walking or running, we’ve really leaped here with our library.”

Luckett & Farley, a Louisville-based architectural firm, and Gensler, a Chicago-based firm, are the two groups who have worked with a committee representing faculty, staff and students to generate the right design for The Commons.

“By the ability of putting this function into the library, it’s creating an intellectual social hub,” said David Broz, an architect with Gensler. “It’s going to be a place for students to come and hang out socially, but it will also be a place where they can come and grab a librarian and help them with research.”

The building will have a very modern look to it, but the architects wanted to incorporate the architecture of older buildings on WKU’s campus into their design. While the restorative process takes place, though, current materials will be temporarily moved to Cravens Library or stored until the project is completed.

“The facade that will open up to The Commons is rooted in the history of the college,” Broz added.

After unveiling the schematics on Thursday, deVries, Broz, and two other representatives of the project presented the designs to the WKU Board of Regents during their meeting on Friday morning. The regents, pleased with the presentation, unanimously approved the project.

With construction set to begin in three to four months, The Commons is expected to be fully completed by Spring 2021, something students and staff alike can look forward to.

“I think it’s going to be just as popular as [Downing Student Union],” said Caboni, grinning from ear to ear.