The Rundel Library's north terrace sits on top of nearly 200 years of Rochester transportation history. The terrace, which was closed off last summer for safety reasons, was partially built over the Erie Canal, which later became part of the Rochester subway bed.
Now the terrace is undergoing a nearly $7 million restoration that will showcase the city's past and help improve the area around Broad Street, South Avenue, and Court Street. About two years from now, if the project goes as planned, the terrace will be transformed into a lively community space and an impressive scenic spot, jutting slightly out over the river.
A pair of concrete benches on a declining grade will form a small outdoor theater space, with a view of the river and the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge to the south.
The terrace will provide better views of the Erie Canal aqueduct wall and its stone archways: the base of what is now the Broad Street bridge across the Genesee. And as people walk around the terrace, they'll be able to look down through portals into the former canal, which later served as part of the Rochester subway tunnel from 1927 to 1956.
Plans for the terrace also call for a large sculpture and a runnel, or channel, in the terrace floor. Water will flow from the sculpture to a portal on the terrace floor and empty into the river. The runnel is designed to meander, like a stream.
The area around the runnel will serve as an educational tool and provide a historical look at the river, the aqueduct, and the subway. For instance, signs will describe the Johnson-Seymour Mill Race, which carried water diverted from the river to mills that operated where the Rundel Library is now. And there'll be descriptions of the aqueduct, which carried canal boats over the river between 1842 and 1919.
Because the river is directly on the library's west side, it plays prominently in the project's design. The new terrace will complement the ROC the Riverway project, Holly Barrett, assistant city engineer, said at a recent presentation. That $50 million project targets development along the Genesee River as it passes through downtown.
The terrace project will also include rebuilding the sidewalk in front of the Rundel building, along South Avenue. The library and its terraces were built in the 1930's, and both the north terrace and the sidewalk are essentially elevated slabs built over tunnels. While most of the original steel framework supporting the terraces and the sidewalk was encased in concrete, it has deteriorated to a point where the steel is exposed and beginning to collapse.
The first part of the project involves making the area structurally sound, Barrett said. That means removing the terrace and sidewalk slabs and correcting the structural problems below before installing new slabs, she said.
The plans also call for removing a seawall in the tunnel under the terrace, which will allow light into what is now a darkened area below. The subway bed will then be visible at the street level for pedestrians.
"We want a sidewalk and terrace that becomes a learning piece, where you can look down and see history," Barrett said.
More information about the plans for the library is available on the city's website: www.cityofrochester.gov/rundelterrace/.