Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees votes to extend lease on Chicago Avenue location


Jacob Fulton/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Public Library director Karen Danczak Lyons. Lyons spoke about budget potentials at a Wednesday meeting of the EPL Board of Trustees.

Jacob Fulton, Reporter

The Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees passed a motion to extend the EPL’s lease of its 900 Chicago Ave. location for another year at Wednesday’s meeting, sparking questions about whether the branch will ever move to a more accessible location.

The location’s lease is set to expire on Jan. 1, but the renewal, approved by a 5-4 vote, means that the Chicago Avenue and Main Street branch will remain at the current location until January 2021. EPL plans to move the Chicago Avenue branch to a spot farther south to better serve parts of the Evanston community that do not have access to a library.

Critics of the renewal, such as board treasurer Benjamin Schapiro, said a renewal would just be a “maintaining of the status quo,” preventing progress on a contentious issue. Schapiro said he was concerned that if the lease did not end this year, it would continue to be renewed as there would always be an excuse not to move the branch.

However, the relocation is still in the exploratory phase and would likely not have a finalized plan by the start of 2020, which would leave much of south Evanston without a library for an extended period of time, according to multiple residents during public comment.

The discussion centered on underserved areas in the community — an issue that came up earlier in the meeting when assistant library director Teri Campbell updated the board on the work of EPL’s new Racial Equity Task Force.

Campbell said EPL is evaluating its outreach into the community with two committees — an internal committee comprised of library staff members and a task force of eight community members, both working to improve the library’s relationships with marginalized people in the Evanston area.

Campbell said one of the group’s main focus points is increasing the number of library card holders and users from diverse communities.

“Both committees came as a result of our equity assessment, and the library is clear about its intent to address EDI across the board,” Campbell said. “Our internal committee has vetted a project-ready curriculum, which will be announced at a staff day next week. We really wanted to make this tangible and show the importance of the issue to our staff.”

The board also unanimously passed a motion for the library’s 2020 budget, which ended up being approximately 5 percent lower than the 2019 budget and included a 1.5 percent salary increase for all staff members. Around $5.8 million was allocated for personnel costs, $2.6 million for non-personnel costs, $480,000 for debt repayment and $543,000 for new improvements.

With the budget for the 2020 fiscal year already planned, opponents of the lease renewal, such as Schapiro, were concerned that it wouldn’t be financially possible to maintain the current location of the southern branch and simultaneously fund the investigation and creation of the new space.

However, Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons said both would be possible and that she hoped it would mean a transition into the new space would occur soon.

“We have the ability to come back and, within the 2020 budget, look at reallocating resources to take advantage of opportunities we don’t know exist yet,” Danczak Lyons said.

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