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Recycling In An Award Winning BIG (Box) Way

June 25, 2012 – Sultana Livingston

Anaheim, CA – When does a Wal-Mart store get an interior design award?

When the McAllen Public Library in McAllen, Texas, a repurposed 123,000 square foot space formerly a Wal-Mart, is named the 2012 winner of the Library Interior Design Award for a Public Library over 30, 000 square feet by the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) and the Buildings and Equipment Section of the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA).

The design firm of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. (MS&R), Minneapolis, Minnesota received the biennial award at the ALA Annual conference on June 24, 2012. Chosen from 117 projects submitted, MS&R was one of seven winners and three honorable mentions whose designs were judged by a distinguished panel from the library profession and design world.

Part of the judging panel, Dr. Susan Parker, UCLA Library, said that the submitted designs were, "fresh, imaginative and comfortable spaces that have been designed, built and furnished with a thoughtful understanding of the needs of the libraries’ constituent communities."

With more than 12,000 Members practicing worldwide in more than 50 countries, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) is a professional networking and educational association that is committed to enhancing the quality of life through excellence in Interior Design and advancing Interior Design through knowledge, value and community.

The Library Leadership and Management Association, which is a division of the American Library Association (ALA), is dedicated to advancing outstanding leadership and management practices in library and information services by encouraging and nurturing individual excellence in current and aspiring library leaders.

Called the "largest single-story library" in the United States, the new state-of-the art McAllen Public Library cost about $25.7 million. The project took over three years to complete and opened on December 10, 2011.  It replaces the old library building which had periodic additions and had been in use for over 60 years.

The new library houses a collection of almost 356,000 items with about 250,000 books and plans for an additional 100,000 books.  In addition to the books housed, today a library’s collection can also include information in other formats including those accessible by electronic means.

Features of the new library include many public meeting spaces with audiovisual capabilities, an auditorium, an art gallery, electronic classrooms, over 60 computer labs, 2 genealogy labs, a teen area, an expanded children’s area, an exterior children’s area, an automated materials handling system, self-checkout units, bilingual signage, a volunteer staffed used bookstore, a café, bilingual signage, and over 350 parking spaces.

With all of the amenities, the library was designed to serve also as a community gathering place.

"This is an investment in the future," McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez said, "Everyone knows that a society is empowered through knowledge and education.  We’re hoping that the community, especially the children will take advantage and further their education."

The repurposing of the McAllen Wal-Mart into a library is not the only community recycling of a big box store.

In 2008, an 80,000 square foot Wal-Mart was converted into senior center with an indoor walking circuit by the city of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.  Other abandoned big box stores have been turned into a church, a courthouse, a charter school, a medical center, and a museum.