The Evanston City Council Monday voted to hire an architect to design rehab projects at the two branch libraries.

Despite a suggestion from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, that the city could save money by moving the south branch to vacant space in the Dempster-Dodge shopping center, the aldermen voted unanimously to spend $52,500 to hire Product Architecture + Design of Chicago for the project.

Rainey said the Dempster-Dodge site has “some beautiful vacant spaces, completely renovated, and a huge parking lot with all sorts of empty space.”

“I think its a perfect location for a branch library,” Rainey said. “I’m concerned that we’re spending all this money on such an old space in such an old building for the south branch that’s in a very congested area.”

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who lives three blocks from the existing south branch, defended the location, site of an Evanston branch library since 1934, noting that it’s close to both transit lines.

“I would like it if we could have branch libraries in lots of places,” Wynne said, but she suggested the current location, despite its lack of parking, is ideal “especially when we’re talking about going green.”

The cost of the rehab work is expected to total several hundred thousand dollars, with some of the funds coming from sale of a city-owned storefront next to the north branch library.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said the city would need to negotiate a much longer lease on the existing south branch building than the four years left on the current agreement and get the building owner to pick up a portion of the rehab costs to justify the project.

Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell said staff would try to do just that, once it has project cost figures from the architect. She said the building owner has indicated a willingness to pick up some of the costs and extend the lease.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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10 Comments

  1. Too Bad
    I think it is unfortunate that the City chose to keep the South Branch at its current location when they had a golden opportunity to make a move to Dempster-Dodge. Being close to transit lines does nothing to help those on the West side of Evanston reach the South Branch. If the aldermen had taken the time to examine the statistics for usage of that branch, I suspect they would have found that it does not draw from residents beyond a few block radius. Certainly, it does not draw commuters. If you were going to get on the el to go to the library, why not go to the main library?

    Or, the aldermen could have made an even bolder decision and chosen to create additional “mini branches” in the community centers in town. The Levy center already has a book room, why not put one in Robert Crown and Fleetwood-Jourdain – both far removed from either the main library or either of the other branches. I am please to note that there will be some new blood on the Council after April – it is time for some outside the box thinking.

  2. Shut ’em down
    While I hate to see anyone lose their jobs, I still have yet to understand why, in a city covering a mere 7.5 sq. miles, we need 3 libraries.

    Here is my proposal: shut down the branch libraries and re-instate the bookmobile system. Set up a weekly rotation of locations for the mobile library–half day stopovers at various parks throughout the city. Two days on the south end of town, two days north, and two days west, with a day off for restocking & budget trimming. Mobile library services would truly serve the community members who are not able to get to our beautiful downtown library (most of whom can’t even find transportation to the “closer” branch locations.)

    A mobile library could stock popular titles, offer story-times for preschoolers, offer wi-fi internet access, and take book requests for to be available the following week. A mobile library might even be something more than a bus with bookshelves–it could be a trailer similar to the Fire Safety House, and be appointed with comfortable chairs, a handful of computer workstations, and possibly even provide digital media players for music or films.

    While this would not be an inexpensive program, it would certainly be more cost-effective and serve a far greater number of our citizens than our current system.

    Failing this, shut down the branches entirely and set up a free bus/trolley service to take underserved patrons to the downtown library.

    Budgets are tight, and we must cut where we can. I challenge the supporters of the branch libraries to point to another community of similar size (geographically) to Evanston that maintains more than a single library. I certainly do not diminish the importance or value of the public library system–I just want to make sure we are getting the most for our money.

    I would like to see City Council examine this proposal as part of the upcoming budget process–and maybe we can save $50K on architects and $300K on renovations to facilities that serve their neighbors, but not the community as a whole.

    Jason Hays

    1. branch libraries in similar cities
      “I challenge the supporters of the branch libraries to point to another community of similar size (geographically) to Evanston that maintains more than a single library.”

      Jason, Oak Park is smaller than Evanston (4.7 square miles) and it has two branches in addition to a main library. Schaumburg and Palatine also have two branches and a main library.

      1. Schaumburg library
        The Schaumburg township library district does have a very nice looking main library and two branches — each in a different municipality.

        The township covers 32 square miles and has over 134,000 residents.

        The Palatine library district also serves more than one municipality. I wasn’t able to quickly locate population or geographic size data for that library district. Anybody else know?

        Bill

  3. I second that!
    Shut the branch libraries. Everyone is making tough decisions about cut backs at home, at work and in their community. This is a no-brainer. Branch libraries are a luxury – used by very few – that we can no longer afford.

    1. I third
      I agree with that, Al..the City needs to cut spending.

      Shutting the branch libraries makes the most sense. The next best option is to move to the shopping center on Dodge – but only if that will save money!

      The Dodge location would be easily accessable by the residents of west Evanston ( who the NIMBYs always neglect, unless they are trying to get allies against development by saying that only wealthy out of towners will benefit), and bring some life into that shopping area.

      As for Ald. Wynne’s comments about the current location being accessable by public transportation…that is just silly. Anyone taking the CTA to the south branch can just as easily stay on the bus for maybe 3 or 4 more minutes to get downtown and go to the main library. ( Taking the Purple Line or Metra makes the scenario even more ridiculous…nobody is going to get on at Central or Noyes to go to the South Branch Library when they can get off at Davis and walk to the main library).

  4. Stop and Ask the Taxpayers What We Want
    I am a regular at the South Branch Library. I will gladly pay the taxes to have branch libraries.
    However, I feel this is an attempt to push through a project before we have a new council. If the city is locked into a new lease and just spent money remodeling the locations, then it is unlikely they will be shut down or moved with a new council.
    I hate the location of the south branch library. If we can have online surveys about sidewalks, why not an online survey to find out how the citizens of Evanston feel about the branch locations and if the community supports relocation of the south branch? The taxpayer’s money needs to be spent responsibly and in a manner that serves the community. While I find great value in the smaller branch libraries, if the community as a whole doesn’t support the idea then I would accept that. If there were overwhelming support for the current location of the south branch then I would accept that. What I can’t accept is this maddening rush to spend money without any regard to what the people paying the bill really want.

  5. Shameful and Irresponsible
    This is an example of special interest politics at its worst. Both branch libraries should have been closed years ago. While Melissa Wynne and Liz Tisdahl placate their small circle of lazy friends, the majority of Evanston citizens are paying for a service they don’t use and don’t want.

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