DeKALB – The grand opening Saturday of the DeKalb Public Library’s refurbished Haish building culminated a decade-long process of planning and construction that has brought the community a gem, and made good use of a famous donor’s money, library officials said.
“This will be here forever,” DeKalb Public Library Director Dee Coover said. “Mr. Haish would be proud.”
Coover is set to retire at the end of the year, and the city already has begun seeking her replacement. But she was joined by a host of residents, community leaders, elected officials, library friends and employees, and members of the board of trustees in unveiling the completed Haish Memorial Library Building.
The total $25.3 million library project included building a new structure – which opened amid fanfare in January – and renovating the old one. Coover’s 10-year term as director started just as planning for all the work got in full swing.
“It is a legacy, but I don’t want to claim credit for it,” Coover said.
She said she believed that Jacob Haish, who died in 1926 just weeks before he would have turned 100, smiled down on Saturday’s grand reopening celebration.
The Haish building was restored to its 1930s glory, originally being built thanks to a $150,000 bequest from the barbed wire baron. It now includes a single-story structure with approximately 30-foot ceilings, a long bright corridor that has wooden tables with lighting affixed, wall-embedded bookshelves, a local history room, a public computer lab with more than two dozen computers, a collaboration room that offers video conferencing and 3D-printing technology, and ample seating in upholstered chairs.
It also is home to a designated teen room, lined with racks of books and made more appealing by its big-screen TV and video game console. The space also includes small conference rooms and chalkboard walls that youth can write on.
“I think he would be speechless,” DeKalb Library board President Virginia Cassidy said of the late Haish. “I think he would be so delighted that we have honored his gift and added on to that, and that the community is so excited.”
In January, officials celebrated the opening of a newly constructed library edifice. Patrons continue to marvel at that building’s bright lighting, dramatic open entryway and voluminous lobby areas. It houses the library’s meeting rooms, children’s and adult materials areas, and the main circulation area with self-service checkout kiosks.
Shortly after the new building opened, work began to renovate the old one – named the Haish Memorial Library – instead of tearing it down. Part of the reason the library kept the old, cramped building is because it is on the National Register for Historic Places. Also, it had been one of only three art deco libraries in the country, library officials said.
The combination of the new and old building has more than tripled the library’s size, growing from its one-building 19,800 square feet to a total of 65,000 square feet.
“The newly built and renovated space is an anchor in revitalizing the heart of DeKalb,” Mayor John Rey said. “This is a grand day for our community to celebrate the partnership of state and local government, together with private philanthropy, that has made this project a reality.”
Paying for the new library was met with some consternation. But, finally, pulling the money together for it came as a result of community support, private-sector collaboration and the state finally ponying up its portion – at least part of it, officials said.
In 2010, library officials applied for and were awarded a state grant for the construction project. Initially, $8 million was announced, but weeks after that notification, officials said, an additional $3.6 million was tacked on, increasing the total state grant to $11.6 million.
Construction started in July 2015. But soon after, work was delayed when the state failed in 2015 to have a budget in place. Without it, the state’s grant payments were postponed. So, library officials looked locally for the rest of the money, which came from the city, tax increment financing funds, loans from at least three area banks and private donations, library spokeswoman Edith Craig said.
State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, praised the funding efforts to get the building open and to the point of Saturday’s big day. He also acknowledged the state’s IOU.
“We’ve come through with $8 million, and we’ve got another roughly $4 million that we’re continuing to work on,” Pritchard said. “But given the state’s fiscal conditions, it’s not going to be soon. But it is a commitment, and I’m going to be persistent in making sure the state fulfills that commitment.”