By Nona Tepper
The Forest Park Public Library has received a $50,000 state grant to make its facilities more accessible, amid plans for a $1.3 million revamp of the library's interior spaces.
"Any time we can improve our facilities without asking for those dollars to come from the community, I think it's something to be proud of," said Pilar Shaker, director of the library.
"Just the knowledge that we are working to make this facility more accessible instead of just generally better is a positive quality. … The board isn't just looking to make it shiny and new; they're looking to make it accessible and easy to use for all the community."
Shaker said this represents the first time in memory the Illinois State Library gifted Forest Park its Live and Learn Construction Grant. She said the library applied for the grant in February with the application outlining the project's scope, budget and timeline for repairs. The library and state finished signing contracts last week.
"Our architect on this project helped me put together the application and it was clear that we already had clear construction plans," Shaker said. "I think the help of our architect really gave some extra legitimacy and professionalism to the overall application."
The $50,000 grant will be used to make the library's bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), moving walls inside the bathrooms to allow for greater wheelchair accessibility, creating countertops and sinks to accommodate wheelchairs, and purchasing ADA-compliant fixtures. During the judging process, Shaker said one of the judges commented that Forest Park's bathrooms 'obviously needed' to be upgraded.
"Obvious need goes a long way when awarded grants," said Shaker, who noted that five libraries applied for the state grant — all aiming to receive funds to increase their accessibility — but Forest Park's library received the maximum funds possible and was the only applicant to receive a perfect score by the grant review board. The library was already going to update the bathrooms as part of the library's larger renovation plan, and the upgrade will be done by the same contractors — Elgin-based Shales McNutt Construction — who are making upgrades to the rest of the building.
"This offsets the project costs," Shaker said.
Staff and trustees have been planning renovation of the library for about three years. The work is scheduled to begin in September and take about six months.
"It's an integral update, so even if we didn't do other work in the facility, that is work we would prioritize, because really the larger project is about accessibility and making the space work better for our patrons," Shaker said.
This article has been updated to reflect that construction will begin in September.