Prospect Heights Library closing building to public to quicken renovation

The Prospect Heights Public Library will return to exclusively virtual services and curbside pickup of materials on Sept. 14, but not due to any stepping up of COVID-19 precautions.

Rather, the closing of the building to patrons is expected to reduce the time frame and cost of the $5.4 million renovation already planned for the 48-year-old building at 12 N. Elm St. this fall and winter.

Executive Director Alex Todd said the precedent set by earlier COVID-19 restrictions until the building physically reopened on July 13 is hoped to have shown patrons how to navigate virtual library services and allow the pace of construction to be swifter.

The original plan was for a renovation lasting 34 weeks, in which most of the building remained open while work concentrated on a third of it at any given time.

But the revised plan calls for a more rigorous construction period confined to about 28 weeks, bringing with it the possibility of saving between $125,000 and $150,000 on construction costs.

The new expectation is to reopen in mid-April and use the 2021 Summer Reading program to officially kick off the next chapter in the library's life.

"We hope to be vibrant and full, but have learned to be very flexible," Todd said.

In fact, it's what patrons may have learned this year about using a library operating virtually that makes the expedited renovation schedule possible. It would never have been proposed if not for the lessons of COVID-19, he added.

While the library is remaining within its current footprint, it will use that space more efficiently - as patrons should expect an institution of today to do, Todd said.

In addition to a better layout of the materials collection, the library will include such new areas as a technologically equipped Makerspace for patrons of all ages to exercise their ideas and creativity, and a cafe area.

The entrance will return to the east side of the building as it was until the last renovation of 1991 moved it to the north.

All the changes are intended to remain relevant for at least the next 20 to 25 years, Todd said.

The renovation carries the long-term expectation that patrons will eventually be able to gather together once the pandemic is under greater control than today.

But COVID-19 has triggered just a few tweaks for now.

"We are buying less furniture than the original plans called for," Todd said.

Construction is scheduled to begin Oct. 5.

An artist's rendering shows the new audiovisual area inside the Prospect Heights Public Library after the renovation planned for the coming fall and winter. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Public Library
An artist's rendering shows the Makerspace area planned to be constructed inside the Prospect Heights Public Library during the renovation planned for the coming fall and winter. Courtesy of Prospect Heights Public Library
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