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Aldermen consider delaying EPL renovation at Council

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) speaks at a council meeting. At Monday’s City Council meeting, aldermen discussed the next steps for the library renovation.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) speaks at a council meeting. At Monday’s City Council meeting, aldermen discussed the next steps for the library renovation.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) speaks at a council meeting. At Monday’s City Council meeting, aldermen discussed the next steps for the library renovation.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

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Aldermen at Monday’s City Council meeting discussed delaying next steps for the renovation of Evanston Public Library’s main branch, saying the Robert Crown Community Center project is the main priority at this time.

The city cannot currently afford both renovation projects, and the declining state of the Robert Crown Center is more pressing than EPL, aldermen said. The Robert Crown Center project also includes plans for a library, which would cost $2.5 million and would fill a “service gap” for potential library patrons in the 9th Ward, EPL director Karen Danczak Lyons said.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said the council has expressed concerns about whether Evanston can take on both projects at this time, considering the city’s revenue and expenses.

“The reality is we do have capital needs in this community,” Hagerty said. “There has been a conversation going on with the prior City Council and this City Council about what are the priorities with the community centers and the community gathering spaces, in which the library is one of the primary (priorities), as is Robert Crown.”

Danczak Lyons and representatives from renovation architectural firm Wight & Company presented a master plan for the floor-by-floor design overhaul for the library, which modernizes the building in a cost-efficient way, Danczak Lyons said.

Michael Barnes, design principal at Wright & Company, said the firm began working with EPL administration and staff two years ago to assess what residents want from the library and how to make those improvements while keeping the library open to patrons.

“The mission and offerings of libraries today are very different than what they were before, but libraries are used as much, if not more, but just in different ways,” Barnes said. “Based on the needs and desires we came up with for what this library ought to have, we actually had to put it together as a complicated puzzle.”

The current total cost estimate for the renovation is $10.5 million, though the cost would escalate each year if the city chooses to delay the project, Barnes said. If the city delayed the renovation until 2023, the cost would increase to about $12.7 million, according to EPL’s presentation.

The plan creates more public space by converting staff-only areas to private and semi-private workspaces and community meeting rooms. The renovation also provides a larger space for teenagers, digital media and technology enhancements. There will also be a gender-neutral bathroom, first-floor cafe and a computer lab.

Danczak Lyons said this project is intent on providing equal access to technology, as learning and job searching have become increasingly dependent on digital media.

“This is really a community-driven vision for the main library,” Danczak Lyons said. “The community depends upon us not just for shelter, but for information and for community building. And that’s the vision that’s guiding this proposed renovation.”

During the discussion about EPL, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said “this is the right time” to move forward with the library renovations, and that it is important to start now to avoid the escalation of the cost. Still, she said she “reluctantly” agrees that the Robert Crown Center takes priority at the moment.

She added that the current spaces in EPL do not support the many programs that the library provides, and she has heard of “tremendous demand” for the individual and group meeting rooms that the renovation would create.

“Of all the city facilities that we have in Evanston, the ways that we use the library have changed the most dramatically of any other building I can think of in Evanston,” Wynne said. “(The renovation) is really important for us to continue to innovate.”

Twitter: @sn_handler