NU Will Donate To Public Library Renovation Fund

Katie Euphrat

By Katie EuphratThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern will donate $50,000 to the Evanston Public Library for the remodeling of its children and teen areas, officials announced Thursday.

Construction already has begun on the $2.42 million project, which will transform large parts of Evanston’s main library, 1703 Orrington Ave., into what the city hopes will be an interactive and appealing setting for children of all ages.

The Room to Grow Campaign, run by a dozen Evanston volunteers, plans to raise $400,000 in private funds for the library project. It has only had one other donation as large as NU’s. The additional $2 million in public funds is coming from sources such as the city’s Capitol Improvements Plan and the sale of the surplus property next to the library’s North Branch.

The money will be used to double the size of the children’s room, which will occupy the majority of the first floor lobby, and to build a 200,000-square-foot teen center on the third floor.

Neal Ney, director of the Evanston Library, said the emphasis is on having separate spaces catering to each age group’s specific needs.

“The teen area will have a performance space and the capacity to display video art that the young people produce,” Ney said. “Since that room is located near the reference desk, teens who are working on homework will have access to all the other resources of the library.”

A “reading bar” of well-lit desk space also will be built surrounding the stage, creating a cafe-like atmosphere to appeal to teens.

Museum-quality interactive elements will be added to the children’s area, following a garden-style theme, Ney said.

For toddlers, a crawl-friendly space will have soft sculptures and durable books to play with. The Art Garden, for slightly older kids, will have arts and crafts under the illusion of a canopy of trees.

Planning for the project began in 2003, and Ney said it has been long overdue.

“We were running out of space, with 30,000 volumes more than the children’s room capacity,” Ney said. “On top of all of that, there had been this revolution in the design of library children’s spaces countrywide, and we wanted to be able to take advantage of that.”

NU also has helped the library in numerous other ways, Ney said. The university has provided the library with fast, cheap wireless Internet access and helped fund an artwork exhibit featuring Evanston artist Walter Burt Adams.

Erin Craig, mother of 3-year-old twins, usually just stops by the library to pick out a video or book for her daughters.

“We found that the children’s library was too small, and it wasn’t inviting because all the books were just stacked up in piles and there was no decoration,” Craig said. “Once the new children’s area is here, we will definitely come, stay for a couple hours and do all the activities.”

Michael Weston, head of the Room to Grow Campaign and former general counsel for NU, said he is thrilled with the donation.

“We are really close to reaching our goal of $400,000, and it’s been really encouraging seeing the amount of generosity of the people of Evanston,” Weston said. “We really wanted Northwestern to give us a significant amount because it’s so parallel to Northwestern’s educational purposes. We wanted them to think big, and we were just delighted.”

To secure the donation, Weston met with University President Henry Bienen and Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance.

NU’s $50,000 donation will be given in increments over a number of years, Sunshine said.

“The president made the decision to donate because they are educational institutions with very similar agendas and very similar purposes,” Sunshine said. “Donating was the appropriate thing to do, especially for a facility right down the street from us.”

“Generally speaking, we’re not a university that gives away,” he said. “We usually, frankly, are on the receiving end of gifts from donors, so this was a very special occasion.”

The new areas of the library are targeted for completion on Labor Day, in time for the next school year.

Reach Katie Euphrat at [email protected]