BLOOMINGTON — Local officials marked the beginning of the Bloomington Public Library’s $25.2 million expansion and renovation project with a ground-breaking ceremony Thursday morning.
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“It feels great,” said library director Jeanne Hamilton. “We’re so excited to be able to offer this expansion to the community, expand our library services, and this will really just improve the future of Bloomington.”
Representatives from the Illinois State Library, the Golden Prairie Public Library District, the Bloomington Public Library Board of Trustees, and the Bloomington Public Library Foundation Board were in attendance along with other library staff, city officials, major donors, and residents from the area.
During the ceremony, Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe spoke about the importance of library services such as internet access and training programs, while mentioning his children, who use both the Bloomington and Normal public libraries.
“My father was a teacher and had been an administrator and as such, he was a fierce advocate for education,” Mwilambwe said. “Through him and my travels around the world and the nation, I learned that a community that does not invest in the education of its people, particularly the young, is bound for decay, if not extinction.”
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The project will add 21,339 square feet of space to the current facility at 205 E. Olive St. while renovating the existing 57,394 square feet.
Additionally, parking will increase by 91 spaces with the construction of a second-level structure to the parking lot along East Jackson Street, south of the library.
The project will also add a partial third floor to the library, a permanent drive-thru, and a second entrance facing Olive Street.
“Bloomington Public Library is only going to get better and better,” said Ruth Novosad, president of the Golden Prairie Public Library Board of Trustees. “We have excellent communication with them; we meet every month with the library staff, and they’re very receptive to our ideas, so we’re fully committed to this expansion, both in spirt and monetarily.”
The Golden Prairie Public Library District serves residents from Arrowsmith, Bloomington, Dale, Dawson and Old Town townships, working with the Bloomington Public Library to expand access to library cards and online resources, and driving the Bookmobile, which stops in each of the five townships and circulates approximately 3,000 books, audiobooks, movies and games to patrons, Novosad said.
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Indoor portions of the project will increase the number of digital spaces while upgrading Wi-Fi capabilities and adding electrical outlets. Other aspects include increasing the number of study rooms from one to nine, adding two audio recording studios, and introducing a computer lab and three community rooms that will be able to open up into one larger room.
For students and families, an innovation lab to work on STEAM skills and a Discovery Zone for children to interact with with new activities or topics will be created alongside two large children’s programming spaces, a sensory-friendly room, a nursing nook, wider aisles and more accessible shelving.
Julian Westerhout, president of the Bloomington Public Library Board of Trustees, said the additional space and new services will help the library adapt and be more flexible in offering young people and adults various opportunities to create and learn.
“Time doesn’t stand still,” Westerhout said. “Almost every day, the library staff encounters situations where we’d like to have a slightly different collection or a bigger collection of materials, books, media or different opportunities for organizations to come in and … a space that (was) built in 1976 isn’t really designed for that.”
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Funding sources for the project include a $5.68 million grant from the state Public Library Construction Act Grant. The library is using $4.1 million in reserve funds for the project and has an additional $1.25 million in donations from the community.
During Thursday’s ceremony, State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, recalled being a young man going to the Withers Library, before it was renamed the Bloomington Public Library in 1977.
“From the Illinois House of Representatives, we send our congratulations. We send our best wishes and from the state of Illinois, we’re going to be sending money,” Brady said.
The City of Bloomington also approved issuing a $14.2 million obligation bond, with the library expected to pay approximately $1 million annually over the next 20 years as part of the bond’s related debt services.
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There is still also about 2%, or approximately $600,000, left to be funded for the project, with organizers fundraising to meet that amount.
Felmley-Dickerson Co. of Bloomington will serve as general contractor, with Phase 1 of the project set to run through May 2023.
During this time, the west half of the current building will be renovated and the three-floor addition will be built on to the library’s west side, repurposing the existing first-floor parking to become part of the library. Phase 2 of the project, slated to begin sometime between June and September 2023, will focus on the east side of the building.
Hamilton said the library will continue to offer services to the community throughout construction. However, at times, parking will be reduced, portions of the library’s collection will become temporarily unavailable, and some resources, such as copy machines and public computers, may be relocated to other parts of the building.
According to the library website, the 1976 building was designed for a population of 41,000 people. In 2006, the library increased space by 25% to improve accessibility and programing, but the city’s population has grown by 92%.
Ward 6 alderwoman De Urban said the project is long overdue, and that citizens deserve a space that can serve their needs and the needs of the younger generation who will benefit from the addition in the long run.
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“We expect the library to be used by hundreds of people at a time, so we incorporated everything that they were asking for and went forward with the project because we knew that we needed to move our city forward,” Urban said. “Fall of 2023 when the project’s completed, I just hope everybody in the city will embrace that we have such gem and make good use of it over time.”
To learn more about the project or support the library’s expansion and renovation project, go to bloomingtonlibrary.org/building-project.