After hours of discussion, Evanston aldermen Monday night decided a proposed $10.5 million renovation of the downtown library building will have to be postponed while development of a new $48.5 million Crown recreation center moves ahead.

Aldermen said it would place too much burden on taxpayers, and risk the city’s bond rating, to attempt both projects at the same time.

The Crown project has the advantage of private fundraising support, now estimated at $11.1 million, that will cover a portion of the project’s cost, while the library proposal is relying more heavily on taxpayer funding.

And some of the private Crown funding is conditioned on now getting the building completed quickly — after decades of delay in deciding what to do about the decaying ice rink facility.

Several aldermen were still skittish about a city staff proposal that would see the average homeowner paying as much as $3,655 in additional taxes for Crown over the next quarter century.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said aldermen could always cut other spending or develop other revenue sources to compensate. Debt payments for Crown would amount to about $1.5 million a year, he said, and the city managed to trim $6 million from its current fiscal year budget.

But doing that, he added, would require difficult choices, which is why he plans to start the council’s 2019 budget debate next month — rather than waiting till late summer or early fall as has been the traditional practice.

The City Council is also scheduled to vote next week on hiring a construction manager for the Crown project, City staff sees making that commitment as key to keeping the project on schedule.

While the appointed library board controls its own budget under state law, the City Council has authority to cut any spending over a referendum-approved library tax rate cap, and the library is already spending above that level.

Read more about the funding debate from our meeting recap or watch our streaming video coverage of Monday night’s City Council session.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Library Renovation Must Wait

    It seems that it was a hasty decision to close the main library’s 3rd floor used book room some months ago.  Besides making a large selection of modestly priced books available to the public, the used book sales, scheduled every few months and managed by volunteers, raised many thousands of free dollars for EPL.  Oh, well. . . so far there’s always the Wilmette Library’s used book room Down Under.

  2. At last – a reasonable decision 🙂
    Crown recreation center first over the Library is a sound decision!
    As a resident, we face an increasing taxes for schools and the Crown Center, both which are very important.

    Also –
    In the era of Digital Media, it might be prudent to have more Digital content and titles, such as e-books, and audio books, personally I would appreciate access to digital content

    In the meanwhile the EPL can invent or solicit donations for E-Readers that patrons can borrow.
    Some of Evanston’s residents are not as mobile, and providing them an E-Reader with access to titles could help.
    E-Readers are great with people with disabilities!

    Over all and with a look to the future
    I would suggest to *DECREASE* the area of the Library that is open to the public, and maybe lease out or rent out the other space for public activities, that way EPL can get some stream of income to offset the renovation and the fact that – sadly – less and less people read ‘real’ books
    A decreased area will cost less to renovate as well as less to run (less electricity, heating, cooling cleaning etc.)

    1. More Salaried Bi-Lingual Social Workers In Budget Plan?
      Will Crown be planning on it’s own for the out-of-town homelessness sharing it’s space, as the library has been doing with social workers? Or if not using law enforcement budget, will the expense of this task transact over the backs of our aging lower-middle class population in walk-up condo bldgs with 45 steps to 3rd floor and property taxes with now zero value for the dollar? Will the expense of this task transact over the backs of young & employed renters dwelling here temporarily with jobs elsewhere and inevitably positioned to turn their backs point blank to all high-rise landlords here? Just as we have connived to extort point blank & shameless those same landlords? It’s this same politically-driven inexpertise of our City Council(s) manipulating the cost/benefit ratio of families over non-families that now manipulates to destroy the lower end stability of our local real estate market. And it does this with no respect for over all cost to a noticeably out-bound lower middle class. And It does this under the mystique of a stable bond rating… still going “…two thousand miles down a dead end road.” (f. hill, 1997) Snap out of it. Without actuarial accounting, we are dirt broke & naked.

  3. A library is more than just books
    I will never grumble about my tax dollars going to my public library, though I agree that both Crown and our schools, of course, need these dollars. Libraries save lives, figuratively and literally. They are a place where a community comes together. A place for equality: everyone can get a book! A place to commune, a place to feel a part of the world, and, for some, a place to come in out of the cold. For now, even without the renovations, I am just very grateful to have such a beautiful place where I can go and turn the pages of some REAL books. And, yes, the used book area is a MUST! And, yes, solicit donations of any kind. I know my family would be happy to contribute.

    1. It is not just an issue of valuing a library
      Many/most support libraries for the reasons you give.
      But many may question making donations or even tax increases given decisions of the Director and Board.
      E.g. stopping book donations and thus what is available for the book sale; letting “book dealers” into the book sale to scoop-up books which means residents don’t really get much; fancy un-needed design of the proposed renovation [design over function] and of course some may be very opposed given the treatment/firing/effective pushing out of the black librarian.

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