Ashbourne’s new £2.4 million library and information centre could be ready to open as early as March and its steel framework is now all in place, giving an early sense of how the controversial design might fit in with its surroundings. Derbyshire County Council leader Andrew Lewer and design manager David Beard took reporter GARETH BUTTERFIELD and photographer MARK DUDLEY on an exclusive tour of the site to get a feel of how its multi-function interior will be laid out.
IT REALLY isn’t fair to call the new library a “library”. It’s more than that. In fact, it’s a lot more than that.
Our new “Library and Information Centre”, as we’ve been asked to refer to it, is actually... (wait for it) a library, a tourist information point, a day centre, a registrar’s office, a wedding ceremony venue, a heritage centre, a Shrovetide exhibition and a new office and presence for the county council in the town.
Despite the fact that it’s costing more than £2 million to build, Councillor Lewer explained it’s actually going to save money — because it will enable a variety of different county council functions to work together under one roof.
So let’s start break it down, starting with the double-height library. It will have more facilities, a more useable space with new books, a “toy library”, staff will be trained to give local advice to visitors and leaflets will be available, along with internet access to help tourists find their way around.
There’s an important distinction to make, though. This will, I’m told, not be our new Tourist Information Centre. At least, not officially.
Derbyshire Dales District Council is changing the way it presents information to visitors and its vision of closing traditional walk-in information centres in favour of “Visitor Information Points” will be pursued separately to this new county council facility.
Councillor Lewer does enthuse, however, that this will be an ideal place for newcomers to head for and seek local knowledge and guidance — hence the word “information” that will adorn part of its name across the frontage.
The day centre will replace the crumbling Henmore Centre in nearby King Edward Street and this new venue will be totally bespoke.
Split between two floors, separated by an elevator, it will feature a spacious lounge and manicured garden for its users to enjoy.
As an alternative civil wedding venue to the popular town hall, designer David Beard speaks enthusiastically about his vision of a bride’s arrival at the building on her big day.
The frontage and access has been created, he explained, with weddings in mind. He wanted to ensure it’s an attractive backdrop for prenuptial couples wanting to tie the knot in the town.
The ceremony room, which will be on the first floor, is expected to seat between 25 and 30 people.
Back on the ground floor the library space will also be used for exhibitions. Talks are on-going with the Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Committee and Ashbourne Heritage Society about making their own uses of this new space, which will be visible from outside when the building is closed.
Local contractors have been used by Nottingham-based construction firm Kier and, at its current stage, builders have installed the flooring and steel decking and are working well towards a March completion date.
Plenty of thought has been put in to ensuring the building has a minimal impact on the environment.
Solar panels will dominate the south-facing pitched roof, and Councillor Lewer has hinted a hightech heating system could be installed to save energy and bills.
Outside there’s space for a handful of cars, although parking will only be for staff and the disabled, and that landscaped area of garden promises to be a little green oasis — albeit surrounded by buildings from all sides.
Its design might have divided opinion from the outset - and it will no doubt continue to do so for years to come — but it’s surprising, looking through the piles of early planning documents, how much thought and investigation went in to making sure it fit in with the streetscape around it.
“I think this design has been a very sensitive response to the comments we received”. Remarked Councillor Lewer, acknowledging the mixed feedback given by Ashbourne residents at the early design stages.
“It’s a modern building that openly says it’s a modern building but it has a natural feel and it integrates well into the scenery it’s in and blends with the streetscape around it,” he added.
While many will be happy to reserve their judgement on the exterior of the building, the real test of its success will no doubt be our first look around the exterior.
As it begins to take shape and we can finally start to get a sense of perspective, one big question begins to present itself. Will it be big enough to fit all these facilities comfortably under one roof? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.