1962 addition to old Nichols Library in Naperville OK'd to be demolished

The developers who own the 120-year-old former Nichols Library in downtown Naperville gained permission Thursday to dismantle a modern wing that doesn't add to the historical value of the building.

The city's historic preservation commission granted a certificate of appropriateness to tear down the 1962 addition to the original structure at 110 S. Washington St., which was constructed in 1898 using a donation from James Lawrence Nichols, an early teacher, author and businessman.

"The 1962 addition doesn't have any architectural, historical reverence," commission member Kamala Martinez said. "I actually think the building will look better when we get rid of the 1962 portion."

Developer Great Central Properties III LLC plans to take down the addition this spring as the first phase of redevelopment, said Mike Elliott, an architect with Kluber Architects & Engineers.

"It will allow us to use it as a starting point for our planning and design," Elliott said.

Building owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown now can apply for a demolition permit, by which the city will ensure the work is done safely.

Preservationists said they worry that dismantling the 1962 addition, which wraps around the building to the south and east, could destabilize some of the historic core.

But Elliott said the work will be done by "stripping back" the addition slowly and sealing large openings with concrete blocks.

"This is a short-term solution as far as actually to provide a weather-tightness and security to the structure," he said.

City oversight through the demolition permit satisfied some on the historic preservation commission and some members of Save Old Nichols.

The group pushed to have the structure protected with local landmark status, which the city council granted in September. The status protects the building by requiring a certificate of appropriateness for any changes visible from Washington Street. Changes to portions that aren't visible from Washington - no matter how historically valuable - are allowed without city oversight.

"I'm glad to see the developer will seek to encourage the stability and structure of the building. I think that's key," said Joe McElroy, secretary for Save Old Nichols. "We'll see how doable that actually is."

Some preservationists, however, remained concerned the building should not be dismantled until a plan has been approved for redevelopment.

"We can't rush into this," said Dolle Nichols, whose late husband was the grandson of the library's benefactor. "I want this to be done correctly and safely and beautifully."

Elliott said licensed structural engineers will be on hand as the work is conducted. He said he's pleased there is a path forward after unanimous approval from the commission.

"I don't have a problem with removing the noncontributing portions of the building," commission member Phillip Garrison said. "I don't think doing nothing in the long term is an option for this building."

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