Demolition for add-ons to old Nichols Library in Naperville?

Naperville's historic preservation commission soon will consider a request to demolish part of the old Nichols Library, and even those who want to save the 120-year-old building think it's a good idea.

The partial demolition request does not cover the original core of the two-story Richardsonian Romanesque building at 110 S. Washington St. in downtown, but the pieces tacked on later: A reading room added to the east side in 1939 and a large south wing constructed in 1962.

"They're not taking down the historic portion of the building," said Becky Simon, a member of the preservation group Save Old Nichols. "That is a great development."

The historic preservation commission is set to review the partial demolition application during a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, in the municipal center at 400 S. Eagle St.

Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development, said the commission could grant a certificate of appropriateness, which would allow the demolition to take place, or could rule against the work. The decision is final unless appealed to the city council by the applicant, building owners Jeff Brown and Dwight Avram.

Brown said Tuesday the owners are seeking permission to demolish the additions to the building in March or April, shortly after its tenant, Truth Lutheran Church, moves to a new building near Nike Sports Complex.

The request must be reviewed by the historic preservation commission because the city council in September designated the building a local landmark.

Landmark status recognizes the structure's history as the city's first public library, built using a donation from teacher, author and businessman James Lawrence Nichols. It prevents owners from making changes that would be visible from the street without receiving a certificate of appropriateness.

The reading room addition can be demolished without approval because it sits behind the library and is not visible from Washington Street. But the 1962 addition, even though Laff said it is "not contributing" to the historic value of the building's landmark status, requires approval to be taken down.

Before submitting the partial demolition request, Brown said owners met several times with Save Old Nichols members to discuss ideas for the building's future, including designs drawn by Naperville architects Tom Ryan and Anthony Yeboah.

Brown said the aim is to tear down the additions, then build anew around the historic library and "do something that's very economically viable and fits in with the neighborhood in downtown Naperville."

That doesn't mean an earlier plan floated to move the old library to the city's history museum at Naper Settlement is off the table, Brown said. Owners continue to weigh all options.

But Simon said preservationists are encouraged that leaving the old library in place now seems the preferred and more likely next step.

If the additions are razed, Brown said they will be taken down carefully to ensure the structure of the library's core remains secure. He said he looks forward to a decision that could clear the way for the library's future to take shape.

"The hope is that there's no surprises on the 25th, that it's an open dialogue," Brown said, "that everyone can work toward a common objective of ultimately saving the Nichols Library."

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