Naperville group seeking solutions before partial teardown of old library

Naperville has granted a partial demolition permit that allows the south wing and the back wall of the city's first library to be torn down as soon as the property owner wants.

But members of a preservation group that worked last fall to get the structure designated a local landmark say there might be others who want to buy the building before any teardown takes place.

Becky Simon, president of Save Old Nichols, said four potential buyers have approached the group, three of them wanting to put restaurants in the yellow-brick, Richardsonian Romanesque building at 110 S. Washington St., and the fourth with other plans in mind.

But the property, now owned by a group of local investors including Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown, is not for sale, said Christine Jeffries, president of the Naperville Development Partnership.

So to try to buy it, the parties who have contacted the preservation group will need to reach out more directly to the owners by sending them an offer, Jeffries said.

"If a property is not for sale, usually you have to make a fairly aggressive offer," she said.

So far, that hasn't happened.

"We can't get the two parties to sit down and talk with each other," Simon said.

The impasse is leaving Simon and fellow preservation fans concerned how partial demolition will affect the 120-year-old building, which functioned as a library until 1986.

"We're very concerned about the building's stability," Simon said.

The city has reviewed plans for partial demolition of both the south wing, built in 1962, and the rear wall, which preservationists say is original to the building.

Bill Novack, director of transportation, engineering and development, said the owner plans to use a demolition company, a structural engineer and a team of contractors with expertise in moving buildings to help the structure stay standing while the south wing and east wall are removed.

"Those people are very good at keeping buildings standing," Novack said about the building-movers, who will not be changing the location of the old Nichols Library, only helping stabilize it. "They'll definitely add another dimension to their team of experts to keep that building up."

The application for partial demolition came to the city after the historic preservation commission granted a certificate of appropriateness for the work in January. The building's landmark status protects its front facade as visible from Washington Street, but not the back.

That's troubling to Save Old Nichols members, who don't have a way to stop demolition of the rear wall.

"The back side of the building, which is original, is not protected," Simon said. "Our hands are tied."

Preservationists also feel they're working against the clock because the partial demolition permit has been issued. Novack said the owners are likely to take down the south wing and east wall beginning in early April, after the building's current tenant, Truth Lutheran Church, vacates the space. Brown did not return calls seeking comment from the owners.

Simon said her group asked the Naperville Development Partnership and the city to facilitate meetings between the potential buyers and the owners. Jeffries said the development agency would be willing to do so but only if those who want to buy the building reach out first.

"Right now," Jeffries said, "we're struggling to identify a buyer or a seller."

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