Villa Park voters to decide on library upgrades
Since it was completed in 1969, the Villa Park Public Library has stood at 305 S. Ardmore Ave., looking largely the same on the outside, and exactly the same on the mechanical side.
The library's heating, boilers, air conditioning, plumbing, water piping, electrical wiring, structural system and roof are original and now are in need of repair or replacement, library Director Sandra Hill says.
"The building is in bad shape, quite frankly," she said. "It looks good, but the infrastructure is original to the building."
So the library, which serves residents of Villa Park and Oakbrook Terrace, is asking voters for help.
In a referendum question on the April 4 ballot, the library is seeking a tax increase to fund a $10.6 million project to renovate and expand the 48-year-old building, so it can function for another half-century.
If voters approve the proposal, Hill says the project will help meet trends that have turned libraries from silent reading rooms into vibrant community spaces for learning and gathering.
The updated library would have large community meeting rooms, more student study spaces, more room for teen and adult services, computers and technology, more parking and much improved handicapped accessibility, library officials say. More bathrooms, a quiet reading room and a book drop accessible by car are also part of the plan.
"Our community deserves a library that would offer these services," library board President Adelaide "Pat" Hubbard said.
If voters agree and approve the plan April 4, the library will begin designing the improvements the next day, taking roughly six months to develop construction documents and another two months to award contracts. That means construction companies would be in place by December and ready to complete the work in two phases.
First, contractors would build the addition on the north side of the existing structure, which will bring the building from its current 24,500 square feet to 31,300 square feet. The addition is projected to be finished by June 2018.
Then, workers would move on to mechanical, structural, electrical, heating, cooling and plumbing work, as well as accessibility improvements and reallocations of space.
"We anticipate remaining open as much as possible," Hill said.
The entire project could be complete by March 2019.
For the owner of a $200,000 house, who now pays about $242 a year to the library, the project would increase taxes by $89.79 a year. The library would use the new money to take out a 20-year loan to finance the work. The board is not seeking an increase to the amount it taxes Villa Park and Oakbrook Terrace residents for its operating budget, which stands at $2.1 million this year.
Patrons say they know the library is in need of repairs and upgrades, but their thoughts on paying more to fund the improvements are mixed.
Villa Park resident Beulah Bell said she won't be voting for higher taxes to support work at the library, which she says is already a nice resource.
"But it wouldn't hurt to have something a little bit nicer," she said.
Oakbrook Terrace resident Marvin Long said he will vote for the tax increase.
"Even though it's expensive," he said, "it's needed."
Long said he doesn't have a computer at home, so he comes about three times a week to go online at the library.
"It's really crowded in here, especially in the computer area," he said. "Sometimes you have to wait."
Hubbard said the residents she's spoken with are much like Long and Bell -- they understand the building's infrastructure needs and are concerned about its deficiencies. But they're also concerned about taxes.
Within the $10.6 million budget for the improvement project, building and site construction is expected to cost nearly $8 million, while the rest will go to furniture, shelving and equipment, professional services, permit costs, a contingency fund and borrowing costs.
The project doesn't include any costs for land acquisition, but through a deal with the Diocese of Joliet and the nearby St. Alexander Catholic Parish, Hill said the library will gain 12 more parking spaces. If the project moves forward, the library will offer 50 parking spaces, including three handicapped spots, instead of the 38 spaces with two handicapped spots.
The land swap would mean the library will use the parking lot to the north of its building and the church will take the lot to the south. The library already owns a vacant lot and one house north of its building; tearing down the house as part of the project would help create the space on which to expand, Hill said.
The northern expansion would include a bioswale for stormwater control, a feature Hill said the library swapped for an underground container, which would have cost more to build. She said the library also looked to keep costs down by scaling back the size of the addition from the 12,000 square feet architects proposed to 9,300 square feet.
Hubbard said this is all part of the library board's efforts to be fiscally responsible, combining the addition with essential repairs instead of waiting to expand until a later date, when construction costs will be higher.
"There comes a time when it's no longer a want," Hubbard said. "When you have to address issues such as heating, air conditioning, wiring -- it's a need."
If voters deny the tax increase, the library said it plans to decrease hours and cut budgets for books, databases, classes, programs and services to save money to make needed repairs.