Council OKs funding for new downtown library

By Stephanie Lulay April 10, 2012 10:10PM

AURORA — They were asked to make history Tuesday night by voting to fund a new downtown library, and they did.

Aldermen voted 8-3 to approve a motion that will allow the city to seek bonds for the building of a $28 million library at Benton and River streets at the former Beacon-News lot. The vote was met with rounds of applause in a standing-room-only City Council chambers Tuesday night.

Aldermen Stephanie Kifowit, 3rd Ward; Rick Lawrence, 4th Ward, and Allan Lewandowski, 9th Ward, vote against the measure. Alderman Rick Mervine, 8th Ward, abstained from voting, saying his company has been retained to consult on the library project.

Under the plan, the new library would be 92,000 square feet, twice the size of the existing 44,000-square-foot library at Stolp Avenue and Benton Street. If bonds are issued, residents with an $180,000 home would pay $26.40 a year for the library until 2041, according to Aurora Finance Director Brian Caputo.

Public comment was lengthy Tuesday night, as citizens were able to speak on the topic for up to three minutes. About 18 residents urged aldermen to vote for a new library location, three shared neutral comments and two urged aldermen to vote against the library.

Many Library Board members past and present were joined by other city leaders offering their support for the project.

Archie Needham said there are many challenges that lay ahead for city leaders.

“Tonight will be the first challenge. The work of today is the history of tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s make history tonight.”

But personal stories some shared hit home the most, aldermen said Tuesday night.

Teen T’Prinn Ingram, along with her two brothers, said the library was a safe place for her to go when her family was homeless. She called the library a “cultural hearth.”

John Diederich, chief operating officer of Rush-Copley Medical Center, said the Aurora Public Library is one of the reasons his family has decided not to move further west.

“We’ve borrowed over 1,800 materials over the last (few) years,” he said.

Aurora Fire Museum curator David Lewis said public libraries made him who he is today. He also owns the historic Holbrook Mill, which borders the new library site.

“I’m not thrilled with the (planned) physical building, but I’m optimistic changes will happen,” he said.

Gonzalo Arroyo, director of Family Focus Aurora, said the Aurora Public Library was where he learned to speak English and earn a GED as an immigrant.

“It offers so much to recent immigrants; to people interested in making something of their lives,” he said.

West Aurora Schools Superintendent Jim Rydland said he was pleased the library has made the first steps to provide scholarships for library cards for the poorest Aurora Township students.

“Should we approve this, it should continue to be future-focused,” he said, urging library leaders to stay nimble and change oriented.

Resident Kevin Mathews, a former aldermanic candidate, said collaboration of the future goes on the Internet, not in a brick-and-mortar space.

He said the new library plans are “really just repeating the past with a few new bells and whistles.”

Alderman Mike Saville, 6th Ward, said a new library has been a long time coming.

“Aurora has tripled in growth. In December 2005, we voted for a new police station. We knew this would be the next thing coming,” he said.

Kifowit said after the meeting that while a new library is needed, she couldn’t ask already hard-hit residents to take on a tax increase.

“More tax burden isn’t the right way to go about it at this point and time,” she said. Kifowit, who is running for the 84th District state representative seat, said the impending election did not weigh on her decision.

Library Building Committee Chairman John Savage said the $30 million in bonds will not only build the new downtown library but also implement changes that will affect the entire community, including upgrade at the Eola Branch and new satellite location in Northeast and Southeast parts of the city.

Savage said the Library Board is committed to being accountable to the City Council, and promised comprehensive updates every six months.

Library Board President Jeffry Butler said he was overjoyed by the vote Tuesday night.

“It weighed heavily to see teens that will not directly benefit from the library (sharing support) who are looking forward to their kids using this library,” he said after the meeting.

The Council vote followed weeks of debate in the city’s Finance Committee, whose members unanimously voted to move the library project forward last week in a special meeting.

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