Awards of Excellence 2019
Grunley Construction Company
Carnegie Library Renovation

Carnegie Library Renovation
Award of Excellence
Best Renovation: Historic Renovation

Project Team

Beyer Blinder Belle - (Architect)
Grunley Construction Company, Inc. - (General Contractor)

Executive Summary

Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s Mount Vernon Square, the historic Carnegie Library is deeply rooted in history. Dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the library opened its doors in 1903 as the first desegregated public building in DC. It was used as the central public library for Washington, DC, for almost 70 years before it became over-crowded. In response, the city’s central library was moved to another location and for the next 40 years, DC struggled to find a permanent use for the Carnegie building that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969. Finally, in December 2016, Events DC, the authority who administers the building for the District of Columbia, announced that a Fortune 500 retailer would sign a 10-year lease for the space. Thereafter, our firm was selected to perform the retailer’s most extensive historic restoration project to date and deliver a pre-miere flagship store.

The $42 million Carnegie Library Renovation project involved renovating and revitalizing the Beaux-Arts style building according to its original design standards by carefully preserving the historic facades, reinstating the interior’s original footprint, and restoring early 20th-century detailing.

The building’s exterior façade was completely restored. The Vermont marble stone was cleaned to its former white brilliance; deteriorated marble elements were removed and replaced with exact hand-carved replicas; and sculptural elements were repaired using cutting-edge conservation techniques. Innova-tive conservation processes like nonionic surfactant for the general cleaning, low-pressure micro-abrasive cleaning of stone (to remove gypsum crusts) and lime-based micro-crack injections were used. The most delicate part of the proj-ect involved fine-air micro-abrasion at sculptural groups and then implementing a technique in the masonry conservation industry called consolidation to bind microscopic, loose marble grains back together. This multi-step consolidation application process is used for the preservation of stone surfaces where the mechanical and cohesion properties have been severely affected by years of weathering. The historic copper roof was also restored with the addition of a new skylight and copper headhouses were reinstalled to complete the historic roofline. The grand entry plaza on K Street was revitalized and a new grand entry staircase on Mount Vernon Place creates an inviting route through the building to the adjacent Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The adaptive reuse of the former public library to a retail store and home for the Historical Society of Washington DC was a successful partnership of public, private, and cultural entities coming together to re-activate a city landmark. This project required consistent, precise communication amongst all stakeholders. On a regular basis, our project management team walked the construction job-site with trade contractors to review their work one-on-one, often inviting the owner and architect to attend. This review process was frequent and extensive as work was being performed to ensure that the craftsmanship held to the ex-acting quality that was expected from the client. There was a true sense of partnership, open communication, and collaborative problem-solving throughout the life of the project. The Carnegie Library project was an extremely complex and challenging effort to fit the client’s innovative, forward-thinking design intent into a 116-year-old historic building. The final results are a testament to true team work and excellent project management.

From the beginning, our project team understood the enhanced level of craftsmanship/workmanship that the Carnegie Library Renovation project would require. Construction tolerances had to be exact. Nearly every aspect of the project was customized to seamlessly meld the existing Beaux-Arts architecture with the client’s brand and preferred aesthetic. Stone joint lines had to be perfectly consistent and even throughout; wood carpentry elements were custom-fit into their openings; existing plaster details were restored and enhanced, and marble features that were specified by the client were meticulously replicated. Interior and exterior design elements were aligned, from stone joints to millwork, and finish tolerances were as low as 1/32” – an exceptionally difficult benchmark where multiple materials and trades would meet. In addition, five different wood species are found in the building (red oak, white oak, cypress, Sapele mahogany and pine). All five types of wood were custom stained to create a nearly uniform wood color throughout the building. In essence, every detail of this project had to be perfect.

Events DC and our client were committed to restoring the historic fabric of the library. To restore the façade, sculptors from Europe hand-carved 28 new pedi-ments and ionic column capital scrolls from new stone quarried from the same mines in Vermont and Connecticut used in the building’s 1903 original construction. Dozens of stone repairs were completed. Spot mortar repointing was performed using custom-tinted mortar. To ensure that all the new stonework was of the same quality, each and every stone was reviewed four times at the fabrication facility in Quebec by our client, the design team, and construction quality control personnel.

The level of detail required for the wood windows was equally exacting. All of the historic, arched windows were restored back to their original condition. The restoration started with the delicate removal of the sash for off-site restoration. The entire frames were stripped of paint and old caulking; repaired with Dutchmen and then stained. Repairs using wood of the same species were favored over putty repairs. All glass was removed leaving the sash fragile. Reinforcement and re-squaring was performed before any glass was reinstalled. The glazing rabbits were squared, new IGUs with security-film were then installed in the restored sash and the entire window went back together. The historic hopper and casement windows were brought back to an operable state using new hardware that replicated the original. This was the first time the building had operable windows since the 1930s, allowing for cross ventilation in the his-toric reading room areas. This historic design feature is now recognized as a sustainable-design best practice as well.

The Carnegie Library Renovation project’s greatest challenge was its structural component – removing the post-historic floors that sat in the building’s center apex. The original skylight and laylight were designed to bring natural sunlight to the first-floor’s circulation desk. A previous renovation in 2001 removed portions of the laylight to infill it with a new 2nd floor and 3rd floor, as well as to erect a new roof above the existing roofline. The Carnegie Library Renovation was designed to re-open the space with a complete demolition of the 2001 structures from the center of the building; removal of the original laylight; and removal of the load-bearing north wall, all while supporting and maintaining the original roof, original north wing skylight, and the historic façade of a 116-year-old building. The laylight was replaced with a new, custom skylight that con-sists of six 30’ long sections of glass crafted in Germany and transported via ship to Washington, DC.

In order to bring back the original configuration of the reading rooms, major demolition was required. In the West Reading Room, a post-historic raised access floor was removed. In the East Reading Room, an entire two-story auditorium that was installed in the early 2000s was removed. The process of reinstat-ing the ceiling of the East Reading Room, and the repairs to the West Reading Room floor were part of the painstaking process to bring these rooms back to their original state. In order to hide all of the new HVAC, a new wood wainscot was installed. The wainscot was inspired by the wood bookshelves that once lined the exterior walls of the reading rooms. This wainscot is a testament to the collaborative design process, where the client, design team, and contractors worked together to create elaborate elements of carpentry that feel historic and original to the building.

Post-historic elements in the 2nd floor lobby, like an accessibility ramp, were re-moved to return to the original spatial configuration. Traditional cement-based terrazzo restoration techniques were used to restore the terrazzo floors in the lobby; traditional ornamental plaster restoration techniques were used to re-store decorative column capitals, and three (3) large 12’x12’ openings were created in the masonry wall adjacent to the atrium so that natural daylight from the atrium’s skylight could flow into the space. In the Carnegie Gallery on the Ground Floor, the ceiling features four vaulted bays of exposed Guastavino terra cotta tile, most famously installed at The Oyster Bar in New York’s Grand Central Station. Finally, at the South Entry, the original stained-glass transom above the doors was painstakingly removed and sent to a specialty glass shop where it was disassembled and repaired using in-kind materials. It was then reinstalled in its original location.

The process of building this structural design element was no easy feat. Our firm successfully implemented a system of structural shoring and scaffolding that would be erected inside the 30 feet x 50 feet courtyard through the existing floors. The system held the existing 3rd floor, original steel joists, and roof above in place so the project team could perform the full demolition of the courtyard, the north wall and the existing floors on the north wing of the building. The demolition process left the building open and vulnerable to the weather. In order to weatherproof the library’s interior, a mobile “bath tub” was installed where the new skylight would be placed. Once the demolition was complete, the temporary structure holding up the roof was removed and the project team began building back the new interior structure.

Since reopening to the public in May 2019, the Carnegie Library Renovation proj-ect has restored the building’s original function as a public “third space” where people could gather outside of home or work. It will undoubtedly continue to serve as an integral part of the 200-year history of Mount Vernon Square, creat-ing unforgettable experiences for District residents and visitors alike.


Brandywine Realty Trust  |   Glass Jacobson  |   Trammell Crow Company  |   The Tower Companies  |   Whiting-Turner  |   Akridge  |   Altus Group  |   The Bernstein Companies  |   Bohler Engineering  |   Brookfield  |   CBRE  |   The Chevy Chase Land Company  |   Chicago Title Insurance Company  |   Coakley Williams Construction  |   Cooper Carry  |   Danak  |   DPR Construction  |   EDG2  |   Grosvenor  |   Grunley  |   HITT Contracting  |   JBG Smith  |   LCOR  |   Linowes & Blocher LLP  |   Martone Construction  |   MetLife  |   Penzance  |   Powers Brown Architecture  |   RCM&D  |   The RMR Group  |   Ruppert Properties  |   Transwestern  |   US Bank  |   Washington Gas  |   Washington Property Company