DeKalb Library Expansion Considers Needs Of Many

Aug 21, 2013

DeKalb library officials are in the midst of designing a $24 million dollar expansion project. 

In the library of the future, there are plenty of electrical outlets for students to use laptops. Library staff ditch vacuum cleaners in favor of floors made from used tires. Busy moms are able to pick-up books without unstrapping the kids from the car.

These are all features being considered for the DeKalb Library expansion. The finish line is still a few years down the road, but planners are now designing the layout and trying to please as many patrons as possible.

Front entrance to the DeKalb Library. Under the current expansion plan, this entrance would be closed off
Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

That's a tall order.

The option to pre-order materials and pick them up through a slot without going inside is something that interests new mom Jessica Anderson.

"Absolutely," she said, "because today the stroller ended up in the other car that [their] dad took, and so it's kind of a 'well we are here as long as I can carry the car seat and then we have to go.' "

The Andersons come to the library about every three weeks when their materials are due. While the pick-up option may come in handy for some of those visits, Jessica's son Cormac also likes to spend time inside the library playing on the computers.

Trying To Achieve Accessibility For All

Library director Dee Coover says accessibility is a priority, but opinions vary on how best to serve people with different needs:

"When we went to the Commission on Disabilities, it was very interesting," Coover said. "One man who is immobile wants to come in the main door of whatever building it is; he's tired of going in back doors. He wants that same experience of coming in [compared] to a custodial parent who has an immobile daughter has to push her in bad weather and he wants to be as close to a door as possible."

Building planners want to limit the number of entrances as much as possible for security reasons, but they are looking at having a second accessible entrance near the parking lot in addition to a wide path leading up to the main entrance.

Gregory Anderson chairs the city's Commission on Disabilities. He is a quadriplegic and says he was pleased library officials approached the commission for suggestions. He says it sets the right tone if future needs arise.

"When they designed the original library in the 1930s, it was a beautiful art deco building and it was a great piece of artwork", he acknowledged, "but very little thought was given to make it accessible because attitudes were very different in the '30s."

"Thank goodness the community realizes that those with disabilities are not only community members but community members who have a lot to provide, and we all need to be part of the experience. Dee [Coover] at the library and the library's architect have really done a fantastic job in making sure that we really are going to be part of this community asset."
-- Gregory Anderson, DeKalb Commission on Disabilities

Another major challenge for the expansion is that the ground level for the original structure is as much as eight feet above the ground level for the addition. Trying to deal with this difference is a tricky part of the construction plan.

Covering The Basics

Meeting the needs of many comes at a cost.

To date, DeKalb received the largest grant offered by the state of Illinois for library construction. Secretary of State spokesman Mark Shaffer says the $11.6 million grant was awarded using a combination of factors, including the area's poverty rate.

A total of $50 million was appropriated for permanent capital improvements to Illinois public libraries and funded by the sale of state bonds.  The Aurora Public Library received $10.8 million.

Shaffer says this grant will cover the "bare minimum basics" for construction. He confirmed that DeKalb Library officials met requirement to match the grant in local funds to begin construction and take care of any bells and whistles.

The money from the state will be paid out in 30-percent increments, with the final 10 percent at completion.

A major expense is things patrons won't see, including heating and air conditioning. At this point in the process, there is still a lot to be decided for things patrons will notice.

Green Considerations

DeKalb Library Director Dee Coover goes over building plans with Rep. Bob Pritchard
Credit Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Rep. Bob Pritchard would like to see library officials look into solar panels or a green roof. He sat in on a recent public input session.

The library is applying for LEED certification. The means the building must meet certain environmental standards, so Pritchard's wish list may come true.

There are several designations for LEED, based on a point system. They range from "certified" to "platinum." Library officials say the most realistic goal is to be certified. Achieving a higher rating requires pricier elements during construction. One example is to install a shower for employees who bike to work. Coover says at this point, achieving that level of certification due to the associated expense is not in the cards.

Watching Trends

Fred Schlipf is the library's building consultant. He's based in Urbana and has traveled around the country checking out the latest trends in libraries.

He suggests the library install electrical outlets for every 100 square feet of floor space.

"If people can afford laptops, they bring them with them. The other side of the coin for DeKalb is there are a lot of people without the money for their own laptops or high-speed internet," Schlipf said. "The library provides this wonderful study and support space. I think it will continue indefinitely."

Another popular feature in modern libraries is charging stations for electronics. People are increasingly looking for places to juice up their cell phones and other devices.

More decisions still need to be made, but the project has met all mandated deadlines as far as the state of Illinois is concerned. It's up to library officials and residents to weigh in on priority features.

Construction could start next year, with a ribbon-cutting in 2016.

Local Share Cost Breakdown:

$750,000 DeKalb Library reserves

$2,000,000 DeKalb Tax Increment Financing Fund

$6,500,000 City Bonds

$2,800,000 Loans

$155,202.95 Cash raised

$98,365 Attorney Fees

$1,450,000 Land costs