Peek inside Edmonton's 'revitalized' downtown library

The long-awaited opening of Edmonton’s new downtown public library closes the book — in a manner of speaking — on the traditional notion of libraries as quiet repositories of published materials and spaces for study and research.

$85M renovation has created a place for the imagination to play

The Stanley A. Milner Library in downtown Edmonton will reopen to the public this week after more than three years of renovations. (Andrew Latreille)

The long-awaited opening of Edmonton's new downtown public library closes the book — in a manner of speaking — on the traditional notion of libraries as quiet repositories of published materials and spaces for study and research.

Instead, the Stanley A. Milner Library, which will begin a weekend of grand opening celebrations on Thursday, was built as a place for an imagination to play.

"Our revitalized building will completely redefine how our city views and interacts with their public library," Pilar Martinez, CEO of the Edmonton Public Library, said in a news release.

"It's a space packed full of learning opportunities and innovation and will quickly become the vibrant community hub in our city we have always imagined."

Closed for construction for nearly four years, the original library building has undergone an extensive renovation. It now boasts more than 600 windows and a multi-storey interior atrium. 

The dramatic exterior lines took some teasing because of a resemblance to military equipment. That opened the door for library staff to coin its nickname — a "Think Tank."

Certainly, the complexities of the renovation threw challenges at the library's top thinkers as well as the architectural team of Teeple Architects and Stantec.

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In December 2016, when renovations began on the building that overlooks Edmonton's busy Sir Winston Churchill Square, it was anticipated that the work would cost $69 million and be complete in time for reopening in early 2020.

Take a virtual tour of the new library with this gallery of 18 stunning photos:

The cost of the project grew to about $85 million, while the opening is happening seven months later than planned.

The library reopens to the public on Thursday at noon, with the weekend's grand opening celebrations allowing the public to check out the new facility.

The library is issuing free tickets for groups of up to four people to book a time to visit between Thursday and Sunday. COVID-19 health measures mean the library is limiting its capacity. A face covering must be worn at all times in the building. Tickets can be booked online.

The new library features:

  • A massive, multi-storey interactive simulation wall, dubbed The Wall, which allows for hands-on learning as well as large-scale multimedia presentations. According to EPL, it is the biggest digital exhibit in North America, with 287 screens and needing 12 computers to run it.
  • 11,000-square-foot children's library with indoor playground, a giant floor piano (just like the one in the Tom Hanks movie Big) and a kids-only Makerspace offering coding, robotics and digital creation.
  • 10,000-square-foot grown-up Makerspace with equipment for 3D printing, sound and video production.
  • 1,336-square-foot gamers' area featuring everything from retro video games to today's newest consoles.
  • More than 70 public computers — more than double the original number.
  • 150,000-plus items in the collection, including 10,000 new items.

As well, there is a new Indigenous gathering space, Thunderbird House, which is the first public space in Edmonton to support smudging. The floor, walls and ceiling are made from white poplar, believed to be the first tree in Treaty 6 territory.

In a similar vein, the Robert Tegler Trust Foundation outreach services will help connect vulnerable Edmontonians to housing, settlement, financial and counselling services.

""We anticipate Edmontonians will be pleasantly surprised and thrilled when they see our revitalized library and all that it offers," said Martinez.