Wheaton Public Library awarded $750,000 for plaza project
The plaza between the Wheaton Public Library and Adams Park isn't just for bookworms, though it's an ideal spot for reading.
Families spread out picnic blankets and lawn chairs for movie nights -- Disney's "Moana" screened in August -- while munching on bags of popcorn from another Wheaton institution, the Little Popcorn Store.
The plaza has hosted morning yoga sessions, voter registration drives, Beatles tribute concerts and outdoor play activities for kids. It's become an extension of the downtown, but after years of use, the plaza needs repairs, library leaders say.
A $750,000 federal grant will allow the library to refurbish the plaza, improve accessibility and expand outdoor programming.
"The goal is to enhance the space as well as to create a safe, environmentally sound destination for the city," Executive Library Director Betsy Adamowski said Friday.
The funds are included in the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday. U.S. Rep. Sean Casten sought the $750,000 as one of his "community project funding" requests, also known as earmarks. The city submitted the project through Casten's office earlier this year.
"This funding is crucial to our long-term vision for the library," Adamowski said in a statement earlier this week. "With it, we can make much-needed repairs to our west entrance and also convert it into a large public gathering space that overlooks the beautiful, historic Adams Park here in downtown Wheaton."
Adamowski is looking to add a plaza shade structure, especially for people meeting up to study or take a break from the four walls of their home office.
"We see a lot of people in the summer using it with their computers, and the Wi-Fi does carry out throughout the plaza," she said.
The plaza was built during a library expansion and renovation completed in 2007. Cross Street was closed on the west side of the building to make way for a second library entrance and public promenade adjacent to Adams Park.
Fifteen years later, "there's a lot of repair work that needs to be done on the plaza itself," Adamowski said. With the funds, the library will be able to fix some cracked concrete areas and replace limestone panels.
The library also wants to add more outdoor seating and tables. The owners of the Altiro Latin Fusion restaurant group opened a coffee shop last year inside a library cafe space with views of Adams Park.
Also on the library's wish-list: a better speaker system and a screen for movie showings presented with the Downtown Wheaton Association in the summer and fall.
Banners would provide a more welcoming approach to the library's west side entrance and promote the free events happening on the plaza.
It's too early to say when the work will begin, but Adamowski said she'll soon meet with StudioGC, a Chicago-based architecture firm, to start finalizing the details.