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Bloomington Council: Library Should Stay Put


The Bloomington City Council has given a clear signal to the Library Board as it considers a new or expanded library; stay in the current location. 

Most Bloomington Aldermen said they want the library to continue planning an expansion or new facility in the current location. But during a joint meeting with the Library Board, Aldermen Jamie Mathy and Amelia Buragas also raised the idea of moving the project further into the downtown.

"When funds are very limited my concern is every dollar we spend elsewhere is a dollar we don't spend on the core. And when we are looking for a really catalyst project, assuming that we are going to move forward on the library and spend $30 million on the library, we have a choice. We can spend $30 million outside of that core of downtown or we can look at spending it inside the core of downtown and the synergy and the support for the local businesses that could create," said Buragas.

Buragas also said the project could work in either location.

Library Board President Alex Cardona said after a joint council and board meeting that he's excited to move forward on the potential project.

Credit Charlie Schlenker / WGLT
Bloomington Library Director Jeanne Hamilton briefs the library board and city council during a joint meeting at the Bloomington Police Station.

The Library Board had already recommended the current location and expanding to the south. Cardona said the board had reached the conclusion that other spots would be less economically feasible for not much better access.

"Now that we have this first initial agreement on what we would like to do in regards to location, it's moving to the next piece to articulate what this means financially, but also for the community," said Cardonas.

Library Director Jeanne Hamilton said staff estimate private fundraising capacity of about two million dollars could go toward the project.

City Manager David Hales said the proper place for the council to consider the project is within the five year capital improvement plan.

Alderman David Sage asked whether the library would be open to phasing the project in light of the city's structural deficit and multiple demands for funds. Cardona said his go to metaphor is Russian nesting dolls; start with the basic project and build up to the total vision. That could include the Parks and Recreation department moving to a new location, and perhaps not for profit partners with the library..

Alderman Scott Black expressed disappointment Town of Normal officials have indicated a 'hard no' to the suggestion of merging the libraries.  Black had hoped for cost sharing and savings on expenses. But, Library Director Jeanne Hamilton cast doubt on that notion. Hamilton said the metro area has about 128,000 people in it. She said most areas with that population have more than one building anyway. For instance, she said Peoria has 118,000 people, five branches, and a bookmobile program.

The council and board rejected the notion of moving to the Macy's location in Eastland Mall or opening a branch in the mall. They said they believed the commercial nature of the mall is not compatible with the library mission. And the location is far from the historic core of the city.
Library leaders said they have had early conversations with potential partners in the project, other not for profit agencies, for instance. Alex Cardona said he's pleased to get direction from the council that will allow further planning and outreach with those entities.

The existing library was built in the 1960s. Library staff have termed a 2006 expansion as a Band-Aid that does not match the 87 percent population expansion in the city since the original structure went up.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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