Lombard library president: New building should be in downtown

As the Lombard library board struggles to win support from the park district for a new building next to Lilacia Park, the panel's president has released a statement explaining why other sites aren't being considered.

Voters approved a property tax rate increase in November after library officials promised to tear down and replace the existing Helen M. Plum Memorial Library building at 110 W. Maple St.

But construction of the new facility has been delayed because library officials have been unable to get permission from the park district to build more than one story on land that used to be part of Lilacia Park.

Negotiations are continuing, though, and the library is working to finalize a revised building design that park commissioners could review as soon as Sept. 19.

In the meantime, library board President Jason Brandt says there are several reasons the panel doesn't want to build in another location, including history, costs and the benefits of having a library in downtown Lombard.

When Col. William Plum died in 1927, he donated his estate so it could have a public park and library.

"Colonel Plum's will states that he donates both his home in the memory of his wife, Helen, for the library, and their garden for the park, 'to be treated as a unit,'" Brandt wrote in the statement. "Preserving this unique relationship is important to the history of Lombard."

He said preserving and protecting Lilacia Park is a priority for library officials.

"Proposed plans include a building that is in proportion to its surroundings, and in no way harms the lilacs," Brandt wrote. "We have kept in the forefront concerns with sights, sound, shade and scale when considering concepts. Our goal has always been a well-designed building that lives in connection with the park, and enhances both the library and park experiences."

On Wednesday, park officials said they had no response to Brandt's statement.

But previously they said the park district gave the library land on several occasions, including when the current library was built in 1963 and when its first floor was expanded in 1977.

"To maintain the integrity of the park, we do not desire to give up any more property," park board President Dave Kundrot wrote in a recent letter.

As part of the 1977 deal, the roof of the library addition was made into a plaza that overlooks the park. But while the library owns the plaza, the park district owns the air space above it.

In 2007, the park district gave the library a driveway with the understanding that nothing would be built beyond a certain height at that location. The park district says it has air rights to the north, east and west of the library.

While library officials were reminded about the air rights before the fall election, they moved ahead with the ballot question because of the poor condition and space needs of the existing library. They expected they would be able to work with the park district after the election.

The park district has offered to do a land swap so the library could have an alternate site for the new building. For example, there's been talk of the park district providing land at Lombard Common, near Grace Street and St. Charles Road.

Still, Brandt says that keeping the library in downtown Lombard provides several benefits for that area. He also says using another site would increase the cost of the project because a parking lot would have to be added.

Brandt said the library board remains hopeful it can reach an agreement with the park board.

"We are keenly aware of the urgency and the frustration of taxpayers," he wrote. "If we come to this from a place of partnership, in the spirit of collegiality and cooperation, we can realize this tremendous opportunity to enhance the experience of both library and park, and the two can flourish together, in the heart of our village."

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