Founders Library at Howard University (Courtesy of Howard University)
Founders Library at Howard University (Courtesy of Howard University)

Howard University has received $500,000 from the National Park Service (NPS) Foundation to implement handicap accessibility renovations at Founders Library.

Eighteen institutions received a total of $8.6 million in grant funding to support projects that preserve significant historic structures at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Eligible projects include pre-preservation studies, architectural plans and specifications, historic structure reports, and the repair and rehabilitation of historic properties, according to standards established by the Secretary of the Interior.

The Founders Library project will improve accessibility at the building, including construction of a new ramp at the entrance. The design will be sensitive to the architecture and historic fabric of the library. Also, slated for renovation project are doorways, door knobs, the elevator, restrooms and the stacks where books and other materials are kept.

Over the years, the university has undertaken several improvements to the aging, historic library, such as upgrading the heating and air conditioning system, LED lighting retrofitting and installation of a new roof. The current renovations focus on accessibility needs recommended by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The improvements that will be implemented will need to be completed within a year, based on the grant requirements.

“This is a pretty significant chance to focus on ADA renovations that we planned three to four years ago,” said Alfonzye “Chip” Chisholm, director of Sustainability for Facilities Management at Howard University. “Throughout this process, we have worked with architects so that we can be sensitive to the design of the building.”

Founders Library, constructed in 1939, is one of the few buildings at Howard that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building, which serves as the main library for students on campus, also houses Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, one of the world’s largest catalogs of the African-American experience.

“Whenever we do improvements, I make sure that whatever products we use are environmentally friendly [and] that they save money and save energy,” said Chisholm, who wrote the NPS Foundation grant proposal. “Our students need that.”

Several students who spend a lot of time at Founders Library were happy to learn about the renovations to the building.

“I’m super excited,” said sophomore Peter Lubembela, a political science major from Denver. “Founders is a beautiful building, but there is work to be done so it can reach its full capacity. Founders is a place that is full of knowledge and knowledge should be accessible to everybody.”

This is the third HBCU NPS Foundation grant Howard has secured. In 1988, the university received funding for improvements to Howard Hall from the first round of grants. In 2012, a successful grant proposal funded renovation projects for the Miner Building, which houses classrooms for the School of Education and is also on National Register of Historic Places.

“These grants will help restore and enhance landmark buildings that are a source of pride on campuses in nine states,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “HBCUs have played an important role in our country’s pursuit of equality, civil rights, and higher education for all Americans.”

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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