Willamette University Set to Renovate Former City Library

Carnegie Building [photo]In 1912, the Carnegie Building opened as Salem's first public library. The stately structure at the corner of State and Winter streets soon will return to its position as a prominent community resource through a series of renovations by the Willamette University College of Law.

The college recently received $300,000 in new foundation grants to help transform the building into the Oregon Civic Justice Center, which will house the college's Clinical Law Program, the Oregon Law Commission, the Center for Law and Government and the Willamette Law Review.

"We will restore this magnificent building to its former elegance and glory," said Symeon C. Symeonides, dean of the College of Law. "This is a unique project because it benefits the state, the city of Salem and the university, working in partnership."

Several of the programs slated to move into the building are ones that connect the law school with the community and with the workings of the State Capitol, located across the street.

The Clinical Law Program provides free legal services to Marion and Polk county residents who cannot afford them, while giving students real-life experience in handling cases. The Oregon Law Commission is an independent state agency that works with the legislature to clarify Oregon laws. Willamette University funds 50 percent of the commission, and it is housed on campus. The Center for Law and Government conducts research and provides education opportunities for public and elected officials. Two of these programs already are endowed for a total of $5 million.

A $250,000 grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Ben B. Cheney Foundation recently were awarded to the college to help pay for renovations. These add to the $600,000 challenge grant the college received last winter from the Meyer Memorial Trust, contingent upon the school raising $1.8 million in construction funding. The new grants, along with a $700,000 award from the Collins Foundation, bring the college within $200,000 of that goal. The total projected cost of the renovation is $3.2 million.

Renovations are scheduled to begin next summer and will include reestablishing the integrity of the building, demolishing a swimming pool structure and constructing a new south entry for the building.

At the time the Carnegie Building was constructed, communities across the country raised money to build libraries through matching funds provided by Scottish-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Salem's library cost $55,000 and included two-story windows, crown molding, hardwood floors and period detail.

The building served as the library until the early 1970s, when it was purchased and modified by the YWCA of Salem. Modifications included building a mezzanine around the top of the first floor, cutting down the lobby's original openness and high ceilings. Willamette bought the building from the YWCA in October 2003, and renovation plans include removing the mezzanine.

Transforming the Carnegie Building will return an important landmark to Salem's residents, Symeonides said.

"A lot of people I talk to who grew up in Salem are very attached to this building," he said. "We are reclaiming the building to return it to the public."