The Normal Public Library is postponing dreams of a new library, potentially for decades.
Instead, the library will do a feasibility study to explore the possibility of expanding the current site. Library Director Brian Chase said there is no current plan by the town to finance the project, even with help from the library foundation.
“I think the reality is that the funding is likely years down the road,” Chase said. “What I’ve encouraged the board to do is consider if there’s another possibility to improve our service to the community. If we can’t afford the 50- or 100-year solution right now, and we don’t know when that could be, maybe we could make some changes to our existing site.”
Chase said the expansion could offer the town a 30-year solution. “It’s really looking at how to optimize what we (already) have,” Chase said.
The current process of developing a new library facility began in summer 2016. The conceptual design itself cost $297,000, along with an estimated $14,000 of travel costs for OPN Architects of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which created the design.
The feasibility study will cost an additional $10,000 and will be completed by Chicago-based Product Architecture and Design, the same group who worked on the library’s Discovery Room and main floor projects a few years back.
The expansion would be to the south and west sides of the current library between Mulberry and College. Moving forward with the expansion would most likely mean delaying the timeline for a new library for an unknown period of time, said Chase.
“I think if we move forward with significant additions, it would push out a new facility,” Chase said. “But our goal is simply to address the space needs that we have and to best serve the community.”
Library Board Chair Jess Ray is not so sure. Ray said any expansion might just make the existing building more attractive to a future tenant if conditions change and a new site becomes reality.
Along with determining cost, the study will see how much expansion is actually possible in a limited space. A needs-assessment test done by the library in 2008 said the library was at a 7,000-square-foot deficit, projected to grow another 1,000 square feet per year. This puts the library at a deficit of about 17,000 square feet.
Chase said the library is hoping to add about 20,000 square feet and create spaces designed for people, such as study spaces and open, flexible layouts. He believes some people will be happy the library is sticking its current location.
“I think a lot of people really love our current location, even acknowledging parking is a challenge,” Chase said.
The Town of Normal has resisted the contention of poor parking options in the past. Town leaders have often pointed out the parking deck is only yards away from the library.
Chase added he doesn’t see the on-site expansion study as settling for a lesser option than a new library in Uptown South.
“I don’t feel that we’re settling as much as acknowledging the conditions,” Chase said. “The conditions have changed since we started this new facility design. Not only is there not a funding plan, but there’s not an indication of when we would see one.”
Chase also said the time and money already spent on the plan for a new facility is not a waste. Program information can be used no matter where the library is and will help the library if it moves forward with the expansion.
“I don’t think that work goes away. I think that work certainly helps inform us as we continue to move forward. Regardless of what we do, we’ve laid out what we want to do in terms of space,” said Chase.
The Normal Town Council has long approved the concept of a new library south of the train tracks in Uptown.
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