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Book it: Library Board makes case for new building

By Linda Girardi For The Beacon-News March 11, 2012 6:52PM

Updated: March 12, 2012 2:16AM

AURORA — With more than 500,000 patrons visiting each year, the downtown Aurora Public Library has outlived its life, library officials said.

“It is one of the most heavily used buildings in the city,” said Eva Luckinbill, library executive director. “Technology has overtaken the people space.”

On Sunday, citizens had an opportunity to participate in the discussion of the latest plans for a new 97,000-square foot main library proposed at the old Beacon-News site at River and Benton streets.

The 1904 Andrew Carnegie-funded library originally cost $50,000 to build and last underwent renovation in 1969.

John Savage, a member of the Aurora Public Library Board, said while an analysis of space limitations of the existing 44,000-square foot facility began years ago, the development phase of a “comprehensive improvement plan” for the entire municipal library system began two years ago.

The Library Board has met with the community’s aldermen and government entities to form the plan, and they want to continue to hear the voice of the public.

The Library Board is seeking City Council approval of a $30 million bond issue for the project. If it is funded entirely by bonds, the cost to the owner of a $200,000 home would be approximately $28 in additional property taxes per year.

Savage said the existing municipal library has extensive structural issues.

The facility, with lower, first and second levels, is not adequately equipped with a fire suppression system and does not meet American Disability Act codes or city building codes. It would cost an estimated $12 million to $16 million just to get compliant, Savage said. The existing public meeting room can accommodate a maximum of 45 people.

The proposal for a new central library includes systemwide improvements to enhance the library’s cooperative efforts with the schools and community. Some of the improvements include state-of-the-art materials handling technology — a task currently done manually — and a family computer lab at the Eola Road branch.

The new facility is designed to be “flexible” to transition to future technology needs.

“As programming and needs change, we will have a facility that can grow with the community and meet different services,” Savage said. “ … If we find in 10 to 15 years we need to make technology changes, we will have the flexibility.”

He said one proposal is leveraging the city’s fiber optic network to outreach to all of the schools by having kiosks or work stations that would have a direct link into the library system.

“Students can check books or do initial research from their schools, and we can have the materials delivered to them,” Savage said.

He said another proposal is to serve “underserved” areas by developing two satellite library sub-tations with a limited collection that is more focused on technology.

Savage said the existing downtown library has 600 square feet for teens; the proposed library would have 2,600 square feet dedicated to youth, with flexibility to expand. The latest architectural rendering removes a series of steps leading into the building.

“We feel comfortable with the direction we are going, but this is a community partnership,” Savage said. “ … We don’t exactly know what the future will look like, but we do know we need to develop space that will be flexible.”

Heidi Bell asked if the City Council’s concerns over the design and technology were “unreasonable.”

“Not at all,” Savage said. “The aldermen represent their constituents, and we respect that and look for their direction. We have met with each of them individually and have made changes to the design of the building, programming and technology in response to them.”

“This is going to make a major impact on changing the fabric and character of the downtown,” Savage said, adding national statistics show dramatic increases in patrons in the first three years a library is built.

“We have seen a genesis of a cultural focus in the downtown. … We are excited to be part of that,” Savage said.

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