Visions differ for future of former Nichols Library in Naperville
A Naperville builder is touting his plans to redevelop the historic downtown structure that housed the city's first library, while preservationists are preparing to seek local landmark status for the 119-year-old building.
Developer Dwight Avram and those who support redevelopment of the former Nichols Library say it will bring needed vitality to a little-used spot of the downtown streetscape along busy Washington Street that most recently housed Truth Lutheran Church.
"A lot of people love the building. But it was not maintained over the years," said co-architect Mike Elliott of Kluber Architects & Engineers Inc. "We're giving the building another life."
But those who oppose the plan say they want the yellow-brick and limestone building that opened in 1898 maintained in deference to the city's past.
"We want to see it used in the condition it's in," said Barb Hower, one of the leaders of a petition drive to seek local landmark status to protect the property. "To see it ripped apart like that, I think would be criminal."
Avram on Tuesday unveiled two versions of exterior plans for the mixed-use facility he wants to build at 110 S. Washington St.: an 80,000-square-foot center of retail, restaurants, offices and condos. He said both options preserve the west-facing facade of the historic library, which is protected by a covenant with the city.
The plans call for first-floor retail with offices above, topped by two stories of condos in a 60-foot-tall building. The development would include 40 underground parking spaces and a green roof for condo residents as well as 10 more parking spots on the ground level.
If plans are approved, Avram says he will tear down the old building brick by brick, numbering each piece so it can be reassembled in the same order. Damaged or unusable bricks would be replaced with materials of a similar appearance, he said.
One plan centers the historic library's facade symmetrically within the new development, while the other places it on the new building's northern edge.
Elliott said architects worked some of the materials, coloring and window details of the historic building into designs for the new one. "It was an exciting challenge to take those elements and incorporate them into the whole," he said, "and to make a lasting piece for downtown Naperville."
Dolle Nichols wants the historic building to remain how it is. Nichols' late husband was the grandson of library benefactor James Lawrence Nichols, a professor and businessman who donated $10,000 toward library construction when he died in 1895 at age 44.
"My father-in-law instilled in me how much it meant to the family," Nichols, 91, said about the building. "I'm unhappy about this. It's so much a part of Naperville."
Open house attendees were asked to put their thoughts in writing as they left, and Avram plans to share them with Mayor Steve Chirico on Wednesday.
The developer also is meeting with individual city council members in advance of sending designs to the planning and zoning commission, potentially in June.