Preservationists: Plan means old Naperville library will be 'highlighted again'

As owners of the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville seek approval of development plans for the site, they're gaining support from a group formed to preserve the 120-year-old building.

Leaders of Save Old Nichols said they met with building owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown and left feeling satisfied with "significant changes" made from earlier designs.

An initial proposal last year called for dismantling the old library at 110 S. Washington St. and reassembling the front facade as part of an 80,000-square-foot mixed-use center. New plans for what's called Central Park Place include restoring and preserving the historic building for eventual reuse, while constructing a 68,000-square-foot structure for commercial use and condos immediately south.

"We're happy that they're preserving most of the old Nichols Library," said Becky Simon, president of Save Old Nichols. "When the construction is done, old Nichols is going to be highlighted again as the heart of our hometown. The focus will be back on old Nichols."

Simon said she's comforted by assurances from owners that they will restore the old library with a replica front door to meet code, like-style windows and repairs to the roof, bricks, stone, tuckpointing, soffits and fascia.

Simon said she is encouraged by plans to replace tall lamp posts on either side of the front entrance steps and to keep the interior gallery with wrought-iron railings.

"All of this only happened because the people spoke up," she said.

The new construction will connect with the east side of the old library and be built in the shape of an "L" around the old structure, Druss said. Simon said she's happy the design by Architect Mike Elliott with Kluber Architects + Engineers will be stepped back or staggered to allow sunlight to reach the historic building.

"We think it would be a lovely event venue," Simon said. "It's just so photogenic."

Druss said the owners also need to fill in the basement of the old structure to support the main floor above.

"This ensures the fact that the original building will not move," Druss said.

Now owners are preparing for a historic preservation commission meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday May 24 at the Naperville Municipal Center, which could grant them a certificate of appropriateness to proceed with Central Park Place plans.

The owners need the certificate because Save Old Nichols convinced the city council to designate the old Nichols Library a local landmark last September.

In January, the commission granted permission for the owners to tear down the 1962 south addition to the library, allowing space on the prized Washington Street property for the proposed commercial and condo building.

Simon said teamwork and positivity allowed Save Old Nichols to achieve its goal of protecting and preserving the building. Now she said the group plans to stay involved as redevelopment progresses.

"We feel that we're going to need to watch the ongoing construction," Simon said, "to make sure that it lives up to its promises."

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  Members of the Save Old Nichols group in Naperville put hearts on the construction fencing around the building to illustrate their love for the city's first library, which now is set to be restored as part of a development plan that could add a four-story retail and condo building to the south side of the property. Daniel White/
  The eastern wall of the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville remains intact, but building owners plan to connect a new development to this side of the structure, if they get approval of their designs. Marie Wilson/
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