Aspen Library expansion likely won't start until 2019

As the planning of a possible expansion to the Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills continues, officials say construction likely is at least two years away.

Cook Memorial Public Library District officials are looking at starting work in spring 2019 or later because of the budget crisis in Springfield.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed property tax freeze could affect the viability of the project, library district Director David Archer said.

"A property tax freeze (for) a couple of years is manageable for us, but a permanent one would really affect our ability to finance the project," Archer said. "Trustees would like to see some decisions made in Springfield before committing."

Library officials also want to save more cash to lower the amount they may need to borrow for the work.

The Aspen Drive Library opened in 2010 as part of a $14 million construction project that included the expansion and renovation of the Cook Park Library in Libertyville. It proved to be incredibly popular with patrons; during the 2016 fiscal year alone, an estimated 258,000 people visited the library and checked out 440,000 items.

Officials started talking seriously about expansion in 2016, and earlier this year they hired a Chicago firm called Product Architecture + Design to create some designs.

Although officials haven't decided if an expansion will happen, Archer said Cook Memorial leaders agree that any addition will include a new children's wing.

Ever since the library opened, patrons and staff have said the current youth area is too small to meet demand for seating.

"The southern part of the library district is seeing a rapid increase in the number of young families moving into the area, many of whom use the Aspen Drive Library," Archer said. "We have found that entire families will visit the library together, and we simply don't have enough space to accommodate them properly."

A large portion of the existing building would be converted to space just for adults, Archer said. As is the case with the youth department, seating and work spaces in the current adult section are in short supply.

Officials have said a library expansion could cost between $4 million and $8.5 million, depending on the scope of the work.

If the board opts to build, the project would be funded with savings and a loan. Officials insist a ballot question requesting a tax-rate increase won't be necessary.

The library board's finance committee will meet this summer to review a professional financial analysis, Archer said. A recommendation to proceed with construction could follow, he said.

"The board needs to be assured the numbers will work," Archer said. "Our internal figures show they will, but the professionals are weighing in."

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An architect's drawing shows what an expansion at the Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills could look like. The proposed expansion is in gold. Courtesy of the Cook Memorial Public Library District
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