Officials of the Forest Park Public Library are trying to balance short-term needs and long-term dreams as they try to decide how to move forward. A Special Building Project Committee, consisting of four library board members and the library’s management team, was formed earlier this year to evaluate building needs.
“The immediate conversation is how to best use the reserve funds we have to address the immediate needs without negatively impacting whatever plans we might have down the road,” said library Director Pilar Shaker. “We don’t want to overspend now if we feel like we’re going to make significant structural changes to the building.”
With about $2 million in reserves the committee is considering short-term needs like a new roof and new carpeting while also thinking longer term about possibly adding a second floor to the existing library or even building a new facility. Shaker estimated that a new roof might cost $80,000 to $100,000, while new carpeting might cost around $60,000 due to the cost of moving books.
The problem committee members face is that the library, built in 1995 at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Desplaines Avenue, is severely lacking in parking. There are only three parking spaces for the library in the small, cramped parking lot across Desplaines Avenue from the library.
“We have a conundrum with this building,” said committee Chair Emily Victorson, a member of the library board. “It never really should have been built because we have no parking. I would be very concerned about spending a lot of money on this building because of the parking situation.”
Adding a second story to the existing library or building a new library would require money that could only be obtained by voters approving a tax increase through a referendum. Library officials are wondering if it would make sense to invest in a new roof if adding a second story to the existing building is an option in the near future.
Although no referendum is imminent, last week the committee heard from John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary, an organization that helps libraries build voter support to pass referendums. Chrastka told the committee it is vital to reach out beyond so called “library people” to pass a referendum.
Shaker said the library has no plans to seek a referendum in the near future but said she wanted committee members to hear from Chrastka to understand the amount of preparation that would be necessary before a referendum could be seriously considered.
“We haven’t even gotten into that conversation,” said Shaker about a referendum. “I think really the question is, before we even start talking about that, is whether the taxpayers in this community would be interested in even considering things. It’s important for the board to understand what all these processes mean even if we aren’t planning on doing them anytime soon. It also gives us a better sense of what our timeline is.”
Chrastka mentioned the technique of holding an ideas festival as a way for the library to reach out and build connections while soliciting community input. A survey could also be conducted to find out what the community wants out of the library and what the community would be willing to support.
“We’re still very much in the brainstorming stage,” Victorson said. “We’re trying to figure out a way forward. We need to figure out what to do next.”
While they were brainstorming, the idea of perhaps working with village government came up, specifically whether village officials might be interested in replacing the current village hall and perhaps a new “government center” could be built which would include a new library.
But the village is facing financial issues and there has not been much collaboration between village government and the library board in the past even though the mayor appoints the members of the library board.
Forest Park Village Administrator Tim Gillian said the current village hall dates from 1975, is extremely cramped and needs a lot of work, as does the fire station and the nearby Mohr Community Center.
Gillian said if the space and funds materialized, the village would be interested in a government center.
“If the pot of money showed up, then of course we’d be really interested in creating a government complex,” Gillian said. “But the site we’re on right now wouldn’t have enough space to be reconfigured I don’t believe.”
Gillian also noted, “You couldn’t do it without some sort of grant.”
In the short term, other than a possible new roof and new carpeting, Shaker would like to upgrade staff work spaces and the public bathrooms in the existing building.
“The staff facilities are in pretty poor condition,” Shaker said. “We need to make sure the staff has a comfortable work environment, and I’d also really love to address the public bathrooms. Those are the two that I think we all feel confident talking about. Our next meeting of the committee is to sort out what things we think we could do that would have a big impact for the staff and patrons.”