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Library leaders, DeKalb City Council discuss funding expansion

DeKalb Public Library employees Patrick Smith (left) and Josh McCarthy roll up plans for the library's expansion on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, the plans were on the wall from a meeting earlier in the week.
DeKalb Public Library employees Patrick Smith (left) and Josh McCarthy roll up plans for the library's expansion on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, the plans were on the wall from a meeting earlier in the week.

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University student Tonnie Adams understands why DeKalb Public Library leaders want to expand the historical building.

She often brings her five children, who range in age from 6 to 13 years old, to the library to borrow books for school or movies to watch.

“Sometimes I don’t have a table to sit at or have Internet use,” said Adams, who is studying community leadership and civic engagement.

DeKalb library leaders asked the DeKalb City Council on Monday if it would consider borrowing $7.5 million for the $24 million construction project, which would add 47,000 square feet to the 19,000-square-foot building at 309 Oak St. Library leaders need to secure $15.5 million by June 1 to qualify for an $8.5 million state construction grant they were offered last month.

Second Ward Alderman Tom Teresinski compared the library expansion to the police station, for which the city also borrowed.

“We spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to find a way to finance a police station with little to no impact to the community,” Teresinski said. “Working together, hopefully we can find a way to minimize this potential tax increase and still get the job done.”

If the library plan ultimately is approved, the city would borrow $7.5 million, which would be repaid by adding 8 cents per $100 of assessed value to residents’ property tax bills for 20 years. City officials have equated this increase to an additional $40 a year on someone who owns a home with an assessed value of $150,000.

Aside from the bond sale, library leaders also want to use $1 million in library reserves, raise $6 million from private donors, and use $1 million in tax increment financing funds. The library building is in a TIF district.

During Monday’s City Council presentation, library executive director Dee Coover listed parts of the library that need to be repaired and their lack of space. She favorably compared the library to the Egyptian Theatre, another historic building downtown that receives money from the city every year through its TIF district.

“I sit here and hear about a sick building year after year, and I believe we will become that without this,” Coover said.

Don McKay of Nagle Hartray Architecture, on the other hand, gave those present an idea of what the library would look like after the expansion. Using an animation, he showed how the 47,000-square foot addition would sit west of the current building, engulfing that part of Third Street and part of the parking lot.

“With this addition, we’ve really taken our cues from the existing building,” McKay said.

Library board President Clark Neher said library board members did everything they could to minimize the financial impact on the taxpayers.

“We need City Council approval to show our donors that the financial plan is in place,” Neher said. “They ask, ‘Is the city going to be involved? Will you have support?’ … We need your support.”

A number of aldermen, and DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen, said the city would be foolish to not take advantage of the state grant.

“A two-thirds-off sale is the way I am looking at it,” Povlsen said.

He added that if the library is unable to raise the money, the city would not issue the bonds.

Although she rents, Adams supports the 8-cent property tax increase, although she predicted people would complain about it.

“To help the community out, I’d make the sacrifice,” Adams said.

DeKalb homeowners Ken and Judy Culver said they also supported the library expansion, even if it it meant a property tax increase.

“The city needs a good library,” Ken Culver said. “I grew up going here.”

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