Plans for a new library on West Rio Road received the conditional approval of the Albemarle County Architectural Review Board on Monday.

The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library elected to renovate the former warehouse for an expanded Northside Library. In April, supervisors authorized $3 million to buy the building.

“All in all, this is taking a building that was a sitting duck and turning it into a real piece of the streetscape,” said board member Bruce Wardell. “It’s a very positive project.”

Construction on the $11.8 million project is slated to begin in February. Library officials hope to have the new library open before October, when the lease expires on the existing facility in Albemarle Square shopping center.

The project needs a certificate of appropriateness from the architectural board before the site plan can be approved. The board reviewed a previous design in mid-September and had asked for several changes.

“One of [their] major bits of advice to us was to take the front of the façade and bring a lot more energy to it and really animate it,” said Peter Bolek, an architect with HBM, the Ohio-based firm working on the project.  

A member of the public who spoke at Monday’s meeting said he was concerned about the project’s colors.

“I don’t have any problem with the architecture, the design, the landscaping, the interior or anything,” said Gary Grant, a member of the library board who spoke as an individual. “[But] why in the heart of Virginia are you considering an exterior color so close to Tarheel Carolina blue? Why are you considering an exterior trim that looks like yellowish-brown mustard?”

Tony Townsend, a board member of the Friends of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, urged approval so construction could be on schedule.

“We’re under a bit of a time constraint with our lease for the current library,” he said. Townsend added he is a member of the design committee and has no trouble with the colors.

Steven Meeks, the president of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society agreed with Grant.

“That blue reminds me of a faded out paintjob of an industrial building, and I don’t think it’s what the county needs,” Meeks said. “I’m somewhat disappointed that the front side of the building is losing so much of its original brick.”

Bolek, whose firm specializes in library design, said the colorful exteriors are meant to emulate those inside.

“Our interiors are full of color and that’s what makes really great, inviting, warm and comfortable spaces,” Bolek said. He added he had not previously heard Grant’s complaint, and that library officials have approved of the color scheme.  

Architectural board member Chuck Lebo also had concerns about the building colors.

“Across the road for many years, there was a building that housed a company called PhotoWorks that had a blue roof,” Lebo said. “They put it on without a permit and were brought here and questioned.”

Lebo said he would like to see a paler yellow and a darker blue.

However, at least two of his colleagues did not have a problem with the color.

“This is making a statement about the library being an important building,” said Marcia Joseph. “It’s not an outrageous blue and I think it works.”

“What they’re trying to do is reuse this structure and create a new public building that will draw people in,” said John Quale. “I think they’re reasonable colors.”

Chairman Fred Missel said he was concerned the county would be able to afford the project as designed.

“I’m curious as to whether it will be coming back to us in a vastly value-engineered form,” he said.

Final approval was granted with several conditions, including further review of a drive-thru book drop-off area.