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Groundbreaking kicks off DeKalb Public Library’s expansion

DeKALB – DeKalb Public Library Director Dee Coover saw Saturday’s groundbreaking for the $24 million library expansion as a remarkable moment in DeKalb history.

“We haven’t had a day like this for 80 years,” Coover said.

The 19,000-square-foot library has served the community since it was built in 1930 with $150,000 from Jacob Haish. Through a combination of library and city funding and public support, the library will more than triple in size to 66,000 square feet by 2016.

Coover spoke to a crowd of about 300 people that gathered Saturday at the parking lot across the street from the DeKalb Public Library for a ceremonial groundbreaking. During the next two years, crews will construct a 46,000-square-foot, two-story addition and complete $4 million in renovations to the existing building.

As library and city leaders, staff, library patrons and authorities on the library expansion took turns posing for pictures, they marked not only a piece of city history, but a milestone in a seven-year saga filled with twists and turns.

“The process has been arduous and it’s been wonderful, but today it’s really wonderful and today it’s really happening,” Library Board President Clark Neher said.

Finding a place to grow

Seeing the need to improve the aging building and provide more space for library patrons, library leaders started talking about expansion in 2007. In turn, they adopted a resolution promising to expand.

Although the Haish Memorial Library served as the backdrop for Saturday’s speakers, the building was not always part of the expansion talks.

The library board in 2010 voted to purchase the former DeKalb Clinic buildings at 217 Franklin Street and 302 Grove Street for $1.8 million but terminated the contract because the building contained asbestos that would have been too costly to remove.

A year later, in 2011, the board entered into an agreement with local developer Steve Irving to purchase land adjacent to the library for $1.45 million. The money to pay for the land came from a combination of an endowment to the library and city tax increment financing funds.

“I’ve thought a lot about that,” Neher said. “I think we made the right decision to wait until the land was available right here, where we will be able to use this building.”

The new building, which Pepper Construction will build and Nagle Hartray Architects designed, will close Third Street north of Oak Street. The closure will create somewhat of a cul-de-sac in the middle of Third Street that will connect to two rows of parking along the building.

Parking changes have created some unease among the library’s neighbors at the First Lutheran Church, whose patrons sometimes use the library’s parking lot where the new building is being constructed. But on Saturday, First Lutheran Pastor Janet Hunt had nothing but blessings for the new project.

DeKalb Mayor John Rey and City Manager Anne Marie Gaura lauded the library’s expansion, particularly the effect it will have to keep DeKalb a thriving community and encourage development downtown.

To Coover, the expansion project couldn’t have moved forward in any other iteration.

“This is what was meant to be,” Coover said.

Paying to grow

About 1,000 people visit the library daily, Coover said, where they can browse 100,000 items in the building’s collection, use the computers or attend a program.

But offerings are crammed into the Haish Memorial Library. For every item Coover adds to the collection, she has to remove one and if an item has not been checked out for two years, it also gets taken off the shelves.

What’s more, the building is not handicap accessible.

The dream of a new library becoming a reality hinged largely on the Illinois Public Library Construction Act grant, money library leaders weren’t sure they were going to receive.

But last year, the library learned the grant they thought was going to be $8.5 million was bolstered by $3 million to become an $11.6 million grant. To receive that much money, local government had to gather $12.2 million in matching funds, the bulk of which came from public funds.

The city issued bonds for $6.5 million to help pay for the expansion, adding 10 cents to DeKalb residents’ property tax rate to repay the bonds. The property tax increase will cost the owner of a home valued at $150,000 who claims the homestead exemption about $45 a year. The city also contributed $2 million in tax increment financing funds.

The library pitched in $1 million from its reserves. Library officials also borrowed $3 million, which they expect to repay over the next three years through local fundraising efforts. Those efforts are being led by fundraising committee chairmen John Castle, chair of the Castle Bank Community Board and a director of Castle Bank’s parent bank holding company, First National of Nebraska, and Mike Cullen, president National Bank and Trust, as well as Marc Huber, the library’s development director.

Of its $3 million goal, the library has received $825,000 in cash and commitments, Castle said.

He said about 100 volunteers are helping the fundraising effort, which he expects will be all but complete in two years. Although, he added, payments for large gifts could be made over the next three to five years.

Even with more than $2 million left to raise, Castle and Cullen have little concern about being able to meet the goal.

“We want participation from the community and when I see a groundbreaking like this, there’s no question in my mind that this campaign can be successful and that this community will get the library it needs and deserves,” Cullen said.

What to expect

Through the fall, crews will demolish the library’s former parking lot and sidewalk, moving utilities and laying the foundation. Structural steel will be erected in December. The new building will be complete within the next 18 months. After that, crews will renovate the existing building, with the project slated to be complete in 2016.

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