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Olson: Library supporters eager for campaign

DeKalb Library board President Clark Neher envisions a new, expanded library that will be more than a warehouse for books and computer terminals.

With 46,000 square feet of new space added to the building, the library will have space for meetings, public art displays, book clubs, poetry readings, and more.

“It will be the cultural center of the community,” Neher said.

Or at least, it will be if everything comes together in the coming days the way Neher and supporters of the library’s expansion hope it will. Library officials are scrambling scrape together $11.5 million by June so they can use an $8.5 million construction grant from the Illinois State Library.

Their new plan, announced Thursday, will be $4 million cheaper. They’ve also made changes in response to public criticism of their plan to raise $6 million in private donations in three years. Where the money comes from now:

• State grant: $8.5 million

• City of DeKalb bonds: $6.5 million

• Tax increment financing proceeds: $2 million

• Private fundraising: $2 million

• Library reserves: $1 million

The cost to you, if you own and live in a DeKalb home with an assessed value of $200,000: About $48 a year on your property tax bill.

That, library supporters say, is a small price to pay for having more public space in town and a library building that is accessible and useful to all.

I met with Neher, Library Director Dee Coover, and IT Coordinator Patrick Smith on Friday. We talked about criticisms that have been leveled of the library expansion plan, and the changes they’ve made in response.

Library officials have tried to be responsive to public opinion. There were concerns – including from me – that their plan to raise $6 million in donations over three years was too ambitious. The fear was that if they failed, taxpayers would be left to pay off whatever remainder they couldn’t raise.

In response, library officials now plan to raise only $2 million. They’re going to drop the $4 million in renovations to the old library building from the overall project cost. Already, they say they have promises of $650,000. In order to make their deadline, they plan to borrow $2 million from three local banks and repay the loans over three years with donations.

“Now we have essentially a $2 million private philanthropy [target], and that’s going to be very easy,” Neher said.

What about the request for $2 million in TIF funds? Is that a money grab by the library? Isn’t that money supposed to be used to promote business growth (like maybe an Olive Garden)?

Coover said about 1,000 people visit the library daily, and about a third of those visit downtown DeKalb as part of that trip. Library consultants predict the expansion will increase library use by 25 percent, Coover said.

“One-third of those people will also be going downtown, shopping, buying lunch,” she said.

There’s also been the criticism that this should be put to a referendum. But Coover pointed out that the library board only received confirmation that they would receive the $8.5 million state grant Dec. 20, leaving little time to plan any kind of informational campaign. And the deadline to have the funds is June.

“We thought a referendum was not doable in that short period of time,” Coover said.

What’s more, the law doesn’t require them to have a referendum. DeKalb is a home-rule community and can borrow the funds without asking voters’ permission.

Library officials have put together materials in anticipation of the public fundraising campaign, which will have the slogan “From Barbed Wire to Fully Wired.”

Provided the City Council signs off on the revamped funding plan for the $20 million library expansion, the campaign will kick off Tuesday. You can learn more about it online at

Anyone who’s visited the library can see that there’s not enough space. The videos they’ve created try to drive that point home and include testimonials from patrons such as Lynne Thomas, who explains how library patrons who use wheelchairs or walkers do not have the same level of access to the public space as the able-bodied. The library has landmark status and as such is exempt from requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

If the council gives the go-ahead Monday, fundraising begins Tuesday and the expansion could be finished four years from now, Coover said.

“The entire community uses the library, from the university president to people getting their GED to families experiencing reading,” Coover said. “One of the joys of working at the DeKalb Public Library is seeing the total diversity of this community.”

Library supporters are asking for no small amount of money. But the state grant also makes it possible for them to build an addition befitting the structure that Jacob Haish made possible in 1930.

It feels like it’s time to do this.

• • •

School nerves: As the father of two girls just beginning their education, I am a bit nervous these days.

Like most parents, I want the opportunities for my children to be better than what I had. But these are difficult times for public schools.

They’re being put in a tougher and tougher position each year by Illinois Democrats, who control every apparatus of lawmaking in Springfield and have used that power to do next to nothing while our state’s finances deteriorated to worst-in-the-nation status. 

The result? The state is expected to cut education funding for a third consecutive year. Last school year, the state paid 95 percent of the $6,119-per-student aid it was supposed to provide. This school year, it is providing 89 percent.

For next school year, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget calls for the state to pay 80 percent of the $6,119-per-pupil it is supposed to provide to public school districts around the state.

Now we’re feeling the consequences of their negligence. Genoa-Kingston School District 424 board members decided Tuesday that they would lay off 14 teachers, cut freshman sports and eliminate dozens of other jobs.

District 424 is not the only one making cuts. This might be the year we feel the full extent of Springfield’s failure. Like other supporters of public education, I am nervous.

But perhaps this is what it will take to make people realize the extent of the problem.

• • •

So vote: Conveniently, it is time for us to elect people to represent us on local school boards.

They are volunteering to serve without pay for four years. We will count on them to make tough choices about our tax dollars and our communities’ children.

Who are they? One place you can find out is on our Election Central website,, where you can read candidate bios and responses to questions about your local schools.

In Genoa-Kingston District 424, five candidates are seeking four seats. They are:  Kerri Sosnowski, Dale Pelley, Kristin Brynteson, Heather Edwards and Taunya Fischer. All five have taken the time to respond to our questions.

In DeKalb District 428, all five candidates for three seats graciously have answered our questions. The candidates are: Vickie Hernan-Faivre, Marilyn Parker, Victoria Newport, George Mitchell and Mary Hess.

Please take the time to get to know your local candidates, and remember to vote on or before April 9.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, or email

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