Restoration, redevelopment of Naperville's Nichols Library approved

The controversy is in the past for a plan to restore the old Nichols Library in downtown Naperville and redevelop the rest of the property.

With no opposition from the public and a unanimous "yes" vote from the historic preservation commission, the owners of the property gained permission Thursday to repair the 120-year-old former library and construct a four-story building for commercial use and condos to its east and south.

Architect Mike Elliott with Kluber Architects + Engineers said the new design looks to the old Nichols Library for inspiration, yet lets the library stand on its own, highlighted by a new front plaza and roof as well as replacement windows and lamp posts to replicate originals.

By granting a certificate of appropriateness for the restoration and construction at 110 S. Washington St., the historic preservation commission ended a year of controversy and compromise that started when a plan to tear down the building and rebuild only its main facade angered preservationists.

A group called Save Old Nichols formed and convinced the city council to designate the building a local landmark last September.

Officials then discussed saving the Richardsonian Romanesque structure by moving it to the grassy knoll west of the current Nichols Library on Jefferson Avenue or to the grounds of the Naper Settlement. Neither location gained traction, and officials later allowed a 1962 addition on the south side of the old library to be torn down.

Finally, preservationists lobbied owners Dwight Avram and Jeff Brown with Great Central Properties III to preserve as much of the historical character of the yellow-brick structure as they could.

All sides at Thursday's meeting said they succeeded.

"This is a tremendous process that we've gone through with a really awesome result," historic preservation commission member Mark Urda said. "The people organized and brought together their concerns and worked together with the government and the developer to get this done. And I think it's a magnificent thing - both the design and the process."

With Central Park Place, which the property will be called, the city will gain a four-story, 68,000-square-foot space with four commercial areas and 21 condos, an underground parking lot and a rooftop garden.

"I feel that the new design elements actually enhance and actually make old Nichols stand out," historic preservation commission member Kamala Martinez said. "Trying to hold some of the old elements with the new is what's going to make this project unique and special."

Elliott said he laid out the new building to retain good sight lines of the old library, which was built using a $10,000 donation from early Naperville teacher, author and businessman James Lawrence Nichols. Elliott and his team now will work on final drawings to seek an architectural permit, which will need one more round of approval from the historic preservation commission.

Eventually, the plans approved Thursday could result in an update to the list of most endangered historic buildings by Landmarks Illinois, which added the old Nichols Library this year. Frank Butterfield with Landmarks Illinois said the new designs make much progress to retain the library's original form, meaning the project someday could be considered an example for other preservation efforts.

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