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Deal unveiled to lock in branch library

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Evanston might save thousand of dollars a year in rent if it agrees to keep spending hundred of thousands of dollars a year on its branch libraries.

That was the bottom line of a plan formally unveiled this afternoon by branch library supporters Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg.

Evanston might save thousand of dollars a year in rent if it agrees to keep spending hundred of thousands of dollars a year on its branch libraries.

That was the bottom line of a plan formally unveiled this afternoon by branch library supporters Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg.

Under the plan, the state would move its branch office of the Illinois Department of Employment Security from 1615 Oak Ave. downtown to an as-yet-unspecified location on Evanston’s west or southwest side, and the city would move the existing south branch library on Chicago Avenue to the same site.

The mayor and senator said the move would help provide better service for people looking for work or trying to start new businesses — functions they said have become a key role of libraries in recent years.

Asked why the jobs service office couldn’t move into space in the main library downtown freed up after the city laid off the library’s cataloging staff earlier this year — which would let the city collect rent from the state and avoid locking it into a long-term commitment to pay rent for a branch library — Schoenberg said he believed it was important to locate the jobs office close to where the greatest need for job search services is.

The Evanston IDES office serves portions of Chicago’s north side and several surrounding suburbs, and the current downtown location has superior mass transit access compared to areas further west and south, but Mayor Tisdahl said providing mass transit access would be a key factor in selecting a new location for the combined facility.

The state now spends $17,605 a month for more than 8,000 square feet of space in the Oak Avenue building, even though only eight full-time and seven part-time employees work there. The state’s lease on the building expires in December.

Schoenberg said that the office could be downsized substantially, and that given the decline in commercial real estate values, he anticipates the state could lease new space for considerably less than the $26 a square foot per year it’s paying now.

The city now spends $4,800 a month to rent the south branch. Library staff hope to roughly double the space, to about 3,500 square feet, in a new branch library. The city has given notice to its landlord of plans to terminate the lease in August, but it could be extended on a month-to-month basis until April 2012.

The deal would require City Council approval, and there was no immediate indication of reaction by aldermen to the plan.

Tisdahl said that once a location for the combined new location is identified, there’d be an opportunity for a full public discussion of the merits of the idea.

The plan apparently would have no direct impact on the future of the north branch library.

Lori Keenan of the Evanston Public Library Friends organization, which has been raising money in an effort to keep the branch libraries open, said she thought the idea of sharing branch library space with the state was interesting "out-of-the-box thinking" but that everyone interested in the future of the libraries needs to vet it a bit before deciding whether to move forward with it.

Keenan said the friends group has now raised $100,000 in cash contributions — about a third of that from a recently concluded online "armchair auction" event.

Keenan said the group plans to update the City Council on its fundraising activities next Monday night. The group had pledged to raise $200,000 by August to keep the branches open for the final six months of the city’s fiscal year, which ends in February.

She said the group has signed up 2,000 members in four months and recently received approval of its tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service.

But she said she has doubts the group can maintain its current fundraising pace. "I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life fundraising for the library," Keenan said.

She said the group has focused on fundraising techniques that should be repeatable in the future. If library friends can use those techniques to raise $50,000 or $100,000 or $200,000 a year for the library in the future, it will always help out, she added.

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