Report: Naperville's old Nichols in 'good to serviceable' condition

Members of the preservation group Save Old Nichols rallied their supporters Monday in Naperville before a meeting next week that could help determine the fate of the 119-year-old building they hope to maintain.

The group presented the findings of a condition assessment of the old Nichols Library at 110 S. Washington St. and discussed steps to help protect it as a local landmark - before a developer can turn it into a mixed-use center of retail, restaurants, offices and condos.

The assessment, conducted by the Western Great Lakes Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology, found the building in "good to serviceable condition" with "isolated repairs and continued maintenance" needed to limit water infiltration and damage.

"In general, the condition assessment was pretty positive," said Charlie Wilkins, a Save Old Nichols member who helped file an application in June to designate the building a local landmark. "The structure's got good bones."

The condition report identified roughly $65,600 worth of high-priority fixes to roofing, windows, gutters and downspouts that the building would need within the next year, as well as $255,500 of middle-priority repairs and $13,850 of lower-priority work that also would improve its condition.

The report will be part of the group's presentation Aug. 22 to Naperville's historic preservation commission, which is tasked with making a recommendation to the city council about whether the building should receive landmark status.

Also during that meeting, property owner Dwight Avram of Avram Builders will present his response to the landmark application. Spokeswoman Deb Newman attended the Save Old Nichols open house Monday, but said the developer would wait until the preservation meeting to make any comment.

Maintaining a landmark building isn't easy, said Julie Cunningham, a member of the Naperville Woman's Club, which owns its own landmark, the Old Stone Church, down the street from the old Nichols Library at 14 S. Washington St.

"It's a lot, but it's well worth it," Cunningham said. "Our history is important."

Naperville Mayor Emeritus George Pradel said the library was an important gathering place that helped residents gain an education. When libraries at schools weren't as strong, the old Nichols Library, built with a $10,000 donation from Naperville teacher, author and businessman James Lawrence Nichols, was a dependable resource.

"I need to be kicked in the pants for not making that a historic building," Pradel said. "I never thought it would come to this."

Preservationists on Monday also gathered ideas for how the building could be reused - other than the plan Avram put forward for Nichols Place, which would include 80,000 square feet on four stories, incorporating the building's western facade into the new design.

Ideas included a restaurant with outdoor dining, a tourism center, an administrative office for Naperville Public Library employees and a high-tech incubator for small businesses. Attendees also proposed turning it into an art school or museum or moving the structure to a different city-owned property to allow development along Washington Street.

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