Heard the rumors about Cal Poly’s Kennedy Library? Here’s the truth, Armstrong says

After renovations expected to begin in 2022, the new Kennedy Library on Cal Poly should have 52 percent more useable space. The outside courtyard, for example, will be covered with a glass ceiling, creating an atrium.
After renovations expected to begin in 2022, the new Kennedy Library on Cal Poly should have 52 percent more useable space. The outside courtyard, for example, will be covered with a glass ceiling, creating an atrium. Courtesy of Cal Poly

A plan to reinvent Cal Poly’s Robert E. Kennedy Library is in the works, to expand gathering spaces, transform the outdoor courtyard and, if donors come through, create a “reading room in the sky.”

When that work will begin has been the subject of speculation and rumors among current and prospective students, who have heard the library will shut down for two years for remodeling beginning in the next academic year.

That’s not the case, according to university President Jeffrey Armstrong, who spoke with The Tribune about the project in early April.

“We believe the earliest that we would have the serious design and construction drawings done to start construction and have students vacate the building would be January of 2022,” Armstrong said. “That would be the earliest.”

University administrators have discussed the need to renovate the Kennedy Library since Armstrong arrived on campus in 2011, he said.

The initial design of the project sets the price tag for renovations at $65 million, of which 90 percent would come from the California State University system budget with the remaining 10 percent from Cal Poly’s budget and from donors.

Fundraising has already begun. More serious campaigning will likely launch in January 2020 after Cal Poly expects to be awarded funds from CSU, Armstrong said.

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A concept design of a renovated Kennedy Library at Cal Poly shows a global ballery to display student work. Courtesy of Cal Poly

“The library’s use has increased dramatically and changed dramatically,” Armstrong said. “(That’s) largely because of digital availability and demand of students. The library is still the library, but it’s much more a place of collaboration and congregation.”

“It’s really vibrant,” he said.

The Kennedy Library has seen small changes since the current building opened in 1980 at a cost of $11 million. New electrical outlets were added in response to student demand, a coffee shop opened inside, and there’s now a space for studying that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The shift away from a quiet place to read to a destination for student project work and meeting space is reflected in the new design that can be seen on a site dedicated to information about the renovation at

The new library design will increase seating from 2,400 to 3,500 seats, and increase user space by 52 percent, according to the project website.

Cal Poly’s Robert E. Kennedy Library. Joe Johnston

Highlights of the new design include a global gallery space to present student work and a glass ceiling to cover the existing interior courtyard, creating year-round seating in a new atrium.

It’s hot inside the library during the fall and spring months, something that Armstrong said will also be fixed with the building updates.

In the meantime, students have expressed anxiety about a potential closure affecting their ability to study in solitude and have enough meeting space.

“Imagine,” posed a Mustang News editorial published Feb. 21, hundreds of students “occupying every lawn, classroom, table, dry segment of concrete step, and chair with armrests on campus for two years.”

In response, Armstrong said, “I’m not prepared to close the library, unless we have adequate replacement space.”

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Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Joe Johnston

Right now, he is eying Crandell Gymnasium for that role.

That building was closed after it was damaged in an earthquake in 2003. It has since been updated to be seismically safe, but has not yet been renovated for use. By the time the university is ready for library renovations, the gym will be renovated to serve as overflow space, Armstrong said.

The campus will also have the new $123 million Science and Agriculture Teaching and Research Complex open by fall 2021, which has a lot of collaboration space, Armstrong said.

While the base concept design for renovations is expected to cost $65 million, it could be up to an $85 million project if donors come forward to fund additional aspects, such as a reading room spanning the library’s fourth and fifth floors with double-height window views of Bishop Peak.

“That’s an example of aspect of project that probably won’t occur unless donors step up,” Armstrong said. “We’re committed to meet the needs and to enhance the library with renovations. But to go the extra mile, we need our donors to support us.”

“That’s a good reflection of our budget in general: The state provides support for our students, the students provide support through fees and tuition they pay,” he said. “But really, it’s the donors, the support we get from companies and foundations that help us take things that extra mile.”

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