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Article updated: 4/28/2013 6:54 AM

Aurora library strives to remain 'vital resource' with new building

By Marie Wilson

Aurora library officials say the city has needed a new main library since 2000 -- something larger with better technology and more space for public gatherings, independent reading and small group study.

That facility will begin to take shape Wednesday when library leaders break ground on a building designed to provide technology relevant today and flexibility for the future, Director Eva Luckinbill said.

"We just have to be ready to adapt and do what it takes to keep this a vital resource," she said.

For patrons who pleaded with aldermen last spring to fund the new library, the facilities already are a vital resource, offering assistance to learn English or conduct job searches or even a welcome respite from the struggles of homelessness.

But officials say the $28 million new main library, which is scheduled to open by early 2015 at the southwest corner of River and Benton streets, will offer even more: More computers, more training spaces and more meeting rooms to better meet community needs.

Filling a need

Public use computers at the main branch of the Aurora Public Library, downtown on Stolp Island at 1 E. Benton St., are almost always in use.

So are the few tables and study desks at the 43,000-square-foot facility, which has been cobbled around a core built in 1904.

Luckinbill said technology, computer labs, quiet study spaces and public meeting rooms are some of the biggest needs to be filled when the new 92,000-square-foot building is finished about a block and a half west of the current site.

The three-story structure will include a lecture hall-style meeting room, a smaller public meeting room, a computer training room, a family Internet lab and a media studio, all of which do not exist in the current main branch.

"Our whole plan in developing it was to have flexibility," library board President John Savage said.

Whatever new technology crops up in the coming decades, "the building can adapt to that," Savage said.

The first floor will be home to the public meeting spaces, a conference room, a welcome area, checkout stations and audio visual materials.

Children's books will be housed on the first floor, along with a craft room, story time area and an early literacy office.

Groups such as the early childhood learning initiative SPARK, which stands for Strong, Prepared and Ready for Kindergarten, can use the early literacy office as they connect with the library to promote access to books for Aurora's youngest residents.

"We're constantly talking about partnerships with (the library) because our goals and objectives are very much in line," said Trish Rooney, SPARK director. "We're planning to do some family literacy events."

The library's second floor will hold technology-focused areas, including a computer training room, family Internet lab, public use computers, a media studio and a copier and scanning machine.

A local history and genealogy research room will be on the second floor along with areas for teens, preteens, reference books, group study and open seating.

The third floor holds administrative space, a shipping and receiving area, the library board room, a rooftop terrace, space for books, and two reading rooms -- one silent and another quiet. Restrooms are available on all floors.

"I think it's far overdue to get a new library to be a central hub," said Tony Martinez, chairman of the Aurora Hispanic Heritage Board, which puts on the annual El Dia de los Ninos festival with a "Books and Libros" theme. "It could really be a staple in our downtown area and we can really grow from having a top-of-the-line library right in downtown."

Funding and building

The Aurora City Council approved a property tax increase last April to fund the new library, and in September agreed to take out a $19.2 million loan.

In January, the library received a $10.8 million state grant that rounds out the $30 million needed to build the new main branch and make $2 million in improvements to technology at the Eola Road and West branch libraries.

New technology will speed the transfer of items from one location to another, provide greater online access to card catalog systems and allow the library to better secure its materials.

The tax increase is expected to cost the owner of a $180,000 house an estimated $16 a year over the next 30 years, beginning with 2012 property taxes payable this year, Aurora Finance Director Brian Caputo said.

Getting started

Wednesday's groundbreaking marks the official start of construction, which is expected to be complete by late 2014 or early 2015. The building, designed by Cordogan Clark & Associates with green features to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, will be built by R.C. Wegman Construction Company.

The public is invited to the event, which begins at 2 p.m. at the construction site at the southwest corner of River and Benton streets.

On the former home of the Beacon News, which the library bought in 2009 for $3.2 million, the new facility will be joining a downtown experiencing somewhat of a rebirth.

At 18 S. River St., just north of the library site, Waubonsee Community College opened its new downtown Aurora campus in 2011.

RiverEdge Park is set to open this June at 360 N. Broadway Ave., and the city is trying again to redevelop New York Street into a downtown "Restaurant Row."

Library spokeswoman Amy Roth said downtown businesses and area residents are excited about the new library, which Mayor Tom Weisner has called "a technological and educational epicenter for Aurora."

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