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Aurora Library pitching plans for new downtown site

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Updated: November 15, 2011 8:42AM

AURORA — Aurora Public Library officials have begun shopping around plans for a new downtown library at River and Benton Streets, at the site of the former Beacon-News building.

The new library would be double the size of the present Main Library just down the street — from 44,000 square feet to a proposed 98,000 square feet — and would add amenities like space for a coffee shop and quadruple the space for teens.

The price tag for the proposed new structure is $30 million.

Library Board President Jeffry Butler said the library plans to expand in other ways, too — with more computers, more study space and public meeting rooms.

Construction of the library would cost the owner of a $200,000 home less than $35 in additional property tax a year for 30 years, said Library Director Eva Luckinbill. She does not anticipate staffing levels to increase or the need to increase the property tax rate for library operating expense.

Luckinbill said staff is hoping to go before City Council to request a tax levy increase before the year’s end. If aldermen approve plans, construction could start in 2012 and the building could open in 2014.

“This would be a huge positive change for downtown Aurora,” Luckinbill said.

Butler admitted that winning over the public is key to financing the new library. The former Beacon-News site was purchased by the library in 2009 for $3.2 million.

“We think it’s reasonable, but it’s a tough sell,” he said. “We’ll have to prove our worth.”

Library cites need

Aurora’s current main library on Benton Street was built in 1904. In the late 1960s, additions were made to the original Carnegie building.

Faced with a building that is deteriorating, maintenance has become increasingly costly, Luckinbill said. The building also does not meet current fire codes and is not handicapped accessible.

“What was needed to add services was very difficult given the age of the structure,” Luckinbill said. “This is not something we can expect to accomplish by renovating.”

Luckinbill said estimates to revamp the existing building and bring it up to code hovered around $18 million and that the structure on Stolp Island is landlocked, making significant expansion impossible.

Elgin, Naperville and Schaumburg have all opened new libraries in the past decade with much more square footage than Aurora’s current library, although Aurora is serving a larger population of about 200,000 residents. New libraries in Bolingbrook, Champaign and Madison, Wis., cost between about $25 million and $39 million, Luckinbill said.

Luckinbill said library attendance is increasing, too. Aurora’s three libraries had about a half million visitors in 1998, 865,000 visitors in 2005 and 1.35 million visitors in 2010. The number of registered cardholders has steadily increased. More than 68,000 residents had Aurora Public library cards as of 2010.

“With the huge growth of Aurora, a new site is needed,” Luckinbill said.

The plan

Butler said the new downtown facility would be a library of the future, not of the past.

“The library is a place for ideas and information. We think that need exists now with modern technology more than ever,” Butler said.

Increasing the number of public computers was a priority, Luckinbill said. Plans call for 80 computers; there are 26 Internet access computers at the current downtown building.

The plan also calls for 20 study rooms for small and large groups to meet and seating for 215. The current library seats about 100 people and only has one small group study space.

Library goers would have access to about 200 free parking spots at the new location. There are 54 metered spots at the current downtown library.

The first floor of the proposed library would house a coffee shop, meeting space, children’s area, media area and have video conferencing technology, Luckinbill said. A drive-thru window to pick up and drop off books would be at the rear of the library, and a garage would house library vehicles.

An expansive teen area, family room and computer lab would be on the library’s second floor. Adult services and study rooms are also planned.

The third floor would feature a quiet reading room and the library’s fiction department.

Technical services would be moved back to the main library from an off-site facility on Church Road, improving efficiency, Luckinbill said.

The new library would also employ new chip technology in books that would make it easier and faster to move them around. Luckinbill said the future main library would not only work to better serve the Eola Road and West Branch buildings, but would serve smaller neighborhood satellite locations — like kiosks — in the future.

Officials are purposely leaving 5,000 square feet in the building’s third floor unoccupied for future expansion needs.

The library’s old site would first be offered to the city under Illinois law.

Aldermen weigh in

As part of the planning process, library officials have presented plans to aldermen and others in the community.

“From the public, we’ve had a very positive reception,” Butler said. “Aldermen’s reactions have been generally positive, but some are concerned about taxes.”

“From my perspective, it’s a good first plan, but I’d like to see more public input in the plan,” said Alderman Stephanie Kifowit, 3rd Ward. “(The library) is definitely going to have to go for a levy increase, so I’d like to hear from my residents.”

Luckinbill said the library has also showed plans to West Aurora school administrators, the Rotary Club, the Aurora Area Chamber of Commerce and other city groups. She said the library’s next step will be to present plans in public forums.

Alderman Lynda Elmore, 10th Ward, said she would like more public input in the plan.

“I am a library supporter, but I had concerns about how they were going to serve my side of town,” Elmore said. Most of her ward uses the Eola branch library.

She said she also wasn’t a fan of the architecture of the building.

“It reminds me a lot of the police department. I think a library should be more inviting than that,” she said.

The library’s proposal is well thought-out, said Alderman Abby Schuler, 1st Ward.

“It was enlightening (to see) how the library’s really changed. Books aren’t that commonplace anymore — but it’s an evolving library, and there’s still this greater need in the public that the community needs to be aware of,” Schuler said.

But Schuler said her verdict on the library is still out. She said she would like to see the library leverage as many grant dollars as possible.

Alderman Rick Mervine, 8th Ward, said while he’s all for a new library, he’d like officials to take full advantage of current technology and be prepared for advancements for years to come.

“What I’ve passed on to the library group is that we make sure whatever we do, that we just don’t build a building. We (need) to make absolutely sure that we know what the building is going to be used for in the next 20, 25, 30 years,” he said.

Mervine said he will support funding the library if they’ve committed to technology advancements and other improvements in the plan.

Rick Lawrence, 4th Ward, said he came away from meetings with concerns.

“They’re basically building what they have — duplicating the same type of services they have currently,” Lawrence said. “We’re looking for superior, forward thinking library, not a $300-per-square-foot building to warehouse books.”

He said he’d also like library officials to develop partnerships with companies like Google and Apple, rather than rely solely on tax dollars for funding.

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