After years of public debate and several design changes, construction of a new main library for East Baton Rouge Parish at Independence Park is about to get under way.

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled Wednesday to mark the formal start of the $35.4 million project, which will see the library on Goodwood Boulevard replaced by a facility nearly twice as large to the north of its location.

The architects who designed the project and library staff who will be housed there say they are eager to see the building go up and believe it will be a tremendous asset for the community when it opens in fall 2013.

Assistant Library Director Mary Stein said the main library, which was built in 1967, has served the parish well but has outlived its usefulness.

“When I came here in 1984, I thought the building should be replaced at that time,” Stein said.

As technology changed, she said, it has become increasingly difficult to adapt the building to meet the public’s needs.

“We can’t add any more power so we can’t have any more computers,” Stein said. “We can’t put two copy machines on the same electrical circuit or they blow.”

Stein said she has “stuff stored all over the building,” filling every available nook and had to cram computers for patrons where the card catalogue used to be.

“We made lemonade as best we could,” she said.

Stein said the library staff is “ecstatic” over the prospect of moving into a building that will be functional, efficient and willprovide a “warm and inviting space” for the library’s patrons.

“It will dramatically change our lives,” Stein said. “I expect use to skyrocket.”

Library Board of Control President Kizzy Payton said the library’s designers worked with BREC officials to integrate the new library into Independence Park.

“The partnership with BREC makes it unlike any other library in the state,” Payton said. “It’s a seamless integration intothe park. Step out of the library and you will be right in the park.”

Ken Tipton, of Tipton Associates, one of three architectural firms involved in the library’s design, said a plaza at the east end of the new library, the main entry area for patrons, is expected to be a focal point for visitors.

The two other architectural firms involved in the project through the Library Design Collaborative are Cockfield Jackson Architects, of Baton Rouge, and PSA Dewberry, of Dallas.

Across the plaza from the library to the east will be a cyber café that BREC plans to build, Tipton said. To the north is an outdoor stage and amphitheater that is part of the library construction.

The 126,000-square-foot, three-story library has a number of features designed to make it attractive and welcoming, said Steve Jackson, of Cockfield Jackson.

Most of the public spaces are along the north fa?ade of the building, which has floor-to-ceiling, glass exterior walls overlooking BREC’s botanical gardens and a memorial oak grove honoring past mayors, Jackson and Tipton said.

The glass walls will allow in soft, natural light and reduce the need for artificial lighting, cutting energy costs, the architects said.

The interior of the building includes plenty of public meeting rooms of various sizes - something lacking in the existing facility - as well as a quiet room where cell phones and talking are prohibited, Stein said.

First-floor areas for children and teens are designed with distinct color schemes, while the second floor contains the adult reading and reference areas, and fiction and nonfiction collections.

A separate area on the second floor is for a combined genealogy and Baton Rouge room where a collection of locally significant historical documents and other items are stored.

The third floor, which is over only a portion of the building, is reserved for administrative offices.

In addition to free Wi-Fi service, a computer training lab and 120 public computers, the library will include a drive-thru window to drop off and pick up books. It will also have self-checkout machines as well as full-service checkout, according to library officials.

Another feature is a publicly accessible rooftop terrace garden that, Tipton said, adds additional insulation to the building.

He said the building was designed to be energy-efficient enough to achieve a silver or gold LEED designation from the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

Milton J. Womack Inc., low bidder for the project, is building the library.

Tipton said architects always like to see their ideas evolve and reach the construction stage.

“It’s like rearing a child,” Tipton said. “We’ve invested a lot of heartbeats into it.”

Architects were mindful of the responsibility they carried in designing the building, he said.

“We recognize that this building has to be speaking to the public long after we’re gone,” Tipton said.