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Six years ago, Carol Good was laid off from her job, and used the public computers at the Forest Park Public Library to search for new positions. She’s been returning to the library ever since. About twice a week, Good stops at the library and uses the public computers to check her email, research housing prices, look into facts she’s heard on the news and more.

“I use the computers a lot, I don’t have one at home. They’re my main concern,” Good said.

On Dec. 17, she attended a public hearing at the library, where an architect, construction manager and staff talked about plans for the approximately $1 million redesign of the library’s interior spaces, as a reaction to the changing ways residents are using the library. Good said she was concerned about noise, accessibility and how the library was going to stay open while the crew renovated the space—her concerns mirrored the questions of the some 10 community members who attended.

“How are we going to be able to use the library while all this is going on?” Good said. “It’ll be interesting to see how all this works out. I understand that it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take months, but they sound like they have a plan.”  

The library announced plans for a redesign in November and, since then, officials have been looking for ways to divide the social activities in the library from the quiet spaces, said Andy Dogan, associate principal at Williams Architects, the firm redesigning the space. He said the library plans to separate the public computers into two areas—a quiet and social area, both on the top floor—will add a new program room near the entrance for book clubs and other meetings and doubled its number of group study rooms to four, which will be equipped with white boards, outlets and be soundproofed.

“So instead of having those people who run small businesses out in the middle of the floor in a study table trying to take calls, we can let them sign up for a room and get the same amount of time as anybody else,” Dogan said. “As we’re kind of moving to a gig economy, people need a place to do their gigs and the public library is a great place for it.”  

He said the library was also looking into adding a quiet reading room.  

Dogan named bringing the teen area upstairs as another big move—”They identify more with adults, they want to use adult services and adult computers, so reorganizing space so that can happen,” he said—as well as moving most staff spaces downstairs so they can “just give that [light] back to the public, and make that a more social area with table and chair seating, maybe even a coffee machine, where it’s OK for groups to get together.”

All bathrooms will be updated, and a family and companion bathroom will be added to the ground floor of the library, as a way to achieve greater accessibility. Officials also plan to replace as much of the fluorescent lighting with LED fixtures as possible and will apply to grants from ComEd to help fund the replacement.

“Even thinking about the type of furniture that you’re going to use, if you expect an area to be quiet you don’t provide a four-person table because that will encourage collaboration,” Dogan said. “The entire plan is thought about in terms of dividing social activities in the library from quiet activities and giving people the opportunity to have the experience they’re looking for with as little disruption as possible.”

Under the architect’s plans, the library’s lower level would include staff space; the youth collection and program room; early literacy play area; meeting room; two quiet study rooms; and a kitchen. The upper level would house four study rooms; the teen program area and library; audio visual and new materials; quiet room, computers and tables; adult services; vending café; collaborative computer and technology zone; and lounge seating.

“Overall, we’re going to be utilizing our space much more efficiently, there’s not going to be as much open areas,” said James Pekoll, library trustee. The library’s physical footprint will not be expanded at all for the project—architects are just reorganizing the interior space. 

The project will cost no more than $1.3 million and is funded totally through the library’s fund reserves. Staff and trustees have been planning for the renovation for about three years. The renovation is planned to begin in May 2019 and will take about six months.

“We work in some communities where there’s a lot of inherent opposition to any sort of change, whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, people just don’t like change,” Dogan said. “We found this community is very open to new ideas, our firm also did the Roos Recreation Center. That was a successful project for us and we’re hoping this will be too.”

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com