GENEVA – As Geneva Library officials ponder the library’s future, the term “déjà vu” seems appropriate.
Not long after rejecting the Cetron property on Richards Street because of environmental concerns, the Sixth Street School property, at 210 S. Sixth St., became a viable player as a site for a new library. The site currently houses the Kane County Regional Office of Education.
The library was going to buy that site from the county 10 years ago for $1.02 million, but county officials never took final action for the sale to proceed. The county recently announced it is ready to sell. Adhering to its agreement from 1989, library officials have the right of first refusal.
County Board Chairman Chris Lauzen said he anticipates an answer by the end of March, after appraisals from both sides are completed.
“As soon as they’re ready, I’m ready,” Lauzen said. “Is the county serious about this? Of course we are. ... Sixth Street School is getting old. It’s maintenance intensive. They have a very good use for it, and we’d like to cooperate and help with that. ... I look forward to Esther’s call.”
Board president Esther Steel said in an email response that she always preferred the Sixth Street School site for a library – though other possible locations have not been fully evaluated yet.
“The community has voiced its opinion that it prefers a [library] site in the downtown,” Steel said. “Obviously, Sixth Street fills that prerequisite by far the best. I think the county has been wonderful in working with us on Sixth Street. Chris has been very supportive. He really cares about doing the right thing for Geneva.”
The discussion is happening as the library board is looking toward establishing its long-term leadership. Trustees are searching for a new library director after Matt Teske resigned last month. The board majority accepted his resignation, then appointed him as an assistant director.
The board appointed Marilyn Boria as temporary interim director. It hopes to find a new director by July 1. Boria also served as interim director in Sugar Grove while its board looked for a new director.
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Not all believe that the library needs to move. Trustee Steve Andersson, for example, said all options still are on the table – including remaining at 127 James St.
“I’m an advocate for staying where we are,” Andersson said. “I sincerely believe staying here is the right decision. In order to move, we’d have to go to referendum and propose more taxes, and I’m not ready to do that to the citizens.”
Another consideration, Andersson said, is to wait.
“I think the nature of books and libraries are changing, and our space might be adequate in the future,” Andersson said. “Give it five to 10 more years. We’ll know more in 10 years than we know right now.”
Andersson is seeking his party’s nomination in the March 18 primary state representative race in the 65th District.
Trustee Susan Shivers said the library already owns the land where it’s situated. Shivers said she does not support spending money to buy another site without asking taxpayers first.
Shivers also said the fact that the library district has $2 million to spend on a new site – which is what the Cetron property would have cost – does not mean it should.
“I don’t think it’s right to overtax the taxpayers for years and years and years to save money to buy property,” Shivers said. “The better approach is to tax taxpayers enough to run the library. Then when it’s time to consider purchasing land and build a building, ask taxpayers what they want.”
But trustee Bob Shiffler said it would be too difficult to have a property acquisition contract contingent on voter approval – and then wait for an election day.
“You can only hold a referendum at certain times,” Shiffler said. “That would make it very difficult to buy any kind of property.”
Steel said she does not agree with Shivers’ assessment. She said to her knowledge, past boards believed there was going to be a need for a new library and took measures to plan for that.
“It has taken 20 years to put together that money to provide a new site for a new library for the district,” Steel said. “The past boards in my opinion never overtaxed the taxpayers. They were very careful to set aside some money every year because they believed it was good planning for the future.”
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The former Sixth Street School lot is 90,000 square feet with a 24,332-square-foot, three-story building, which was built in 1924, situated in a residential area of Geneva’s historic downtown.
Still, the Geneva Library District has a long history with the former school site. According to county land records, the library district actually owned the property through a quit-claim deed filed June 1, 1981.
Then on Nov. 5, 1988, records show the library sold it to the county for $252,000. County officials made a formal written declaration of the library’s right of first refusal Dec. 12, 1989.
So why didn’t library trustees proceed with relocating the library 30 years ago?
Sharon Jones, who lives on Franklin Street near the former school site, said she was one of the community leaders who was against it.
“I did not object because I didn’t want it next door to my house,” Jones said. “I was one of the leaders who preferred it [the building at 127 James St.] was added on ... to keep a presence in the downtown. I encouraged them to tear down the building next door.”
In 1995, the library bought the American Legion Post 75 next door, tore it down and expanded the library. Now, Jones said she supports the possibility of a new library at the Sixth Street School site, but not until a study is done first.
For Jones, parking is critical for the library, no matter where it is located. The current building does not have a dedicated parking lot and patrons must park and walk to the building.
“If the Sixth Street School site would suit the needs of a library of the future, then tear it down and start from scratch,” Jones said. “The library would still be downtown, and I would be supportive of that. They need to find out what the requirements for the library are – now.”
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The county’s intent to sell its property prompted library officials to have a library architect do a presentation to the board last month about what is involved in creating a building plan for a new library.
A building plan, officials said, is something they need – but as to whether they need it before exercising their option on Sixth Street, after or concurrently – also is in flux. Library officials have not taken action to hire a company to do that building plan.
Trustee Pat Lord said she hoped the board will issue a request for proposals to create a building plan.
“Part of the reason of having a building plan is to have an idea of what kind of library you want to build,” Lord said. “The final size of the library footprint has not been established yet.”
The Sixth Street location would allow library officials to keep the library in the downtown area, she said. If trustees vote to buy that site, and voters don’t want to fund building a new library there, officials can always sell the property, Lord said.
Another reason Shivers said she would vote against buying a new site for a library is because there has not been a formal study of what can be done with the current library.
But Steel said the process of re-evaluating and reconfiguring the current library’s space is constant.
“I think we will evaluate our building yet again ... because that is the right thing to do,” Steel said. “It will update everyone on what has been done and what else can be done. The board will be discussing that at its next meeting.”