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Geneva library officials mull spring referendum for new building

'This building isn't getting any younger'

GENEVA – Geneva Public Library District officials are considering whether to ask voters to support a 2017 building referendum to build a new library facility, Executive Director Christine Lazaris said.

“Our board is looking to make a decision by the end of this year about a referendum for potentially next year,” Lazaris said. “The earliest would be April 2017.”

Officials don’t yet know how much they would ask for to build a new library on the former Sixth Street School site, which the library district now owns, but it would have to be at least 50,000 to 60,000 square feet to serve the district’s 30,500 residents, Lazaris said.

The current library building at 127 James St. is 27,000 square feet.

“We purchased property, recognizing that people have been very vocal about wanting the library to stay downtown,” Lazaris said. “The reality is, this building isn’t getting any younger. Our space needs are not getting any better, and the cost of the upkeep on this building continues to be an issue. How do you get more space? How do you get parking? Well, a new facility is the realistic answer.”

Library board President Robert Shiffler said one of the big drivers for the board’s consideration of going to voters is the need for more space.

“We’re constrained for space for the types of programs we would like to have,” Shiffler said. “We have insufficient study rooms and other types of rooms for our users to take advantage of.”

Shiffler said accessibility is another major issue, citing the lack of adequate handicapped parking and an undersized elevator.

“The entrance itself is difficult to negotiate in a wheelchair,” Shiffler said. “So making it accessible for everybody is also a driver for us.”

The library board recently authorized a Chicago architecture firm, StudioGC, to do a schematic design that will include developing a full building program, she said.

Aside from space issues, officials also have to consider the cost of the current building’s continued maintenance, Lazaris said.

“Energy efficiency is definitely an issue here, with the age of our mechanicals – no denying that,” Lazaris said. “Our windows are all beyond their life span; they’re leaking air. … In the women’s restroom in the winter, it gets so cold on the outside wall that the pipes freeze and we have [to use] a space heater.”

Lazaris said even the ivy growing on the building – as attractive as it might be – “kills your tuckpointing.”

“Everything has a life span,” Lazaris said. “Our mechanicals are beyond their life span. HVAC [heating, ventilating and air conditioning] is beyond its life span. … This is what people don’t see. And the tuckpointing ... the air escapes the roof, but it also allows pests in here. And we get box elder bug infestation in the spring. We have mice running through our ceiling. We have a lot of issues here.”

Another issue library officials found through a needs assessment was operational efficiency. When compared with peer libraries, Geneva’s offers 87 percent of library service at 130 percent of the cost, Lazaris said.

“And it’s not because we don’t know what we’re doing,” Lazaris said. “It’s because we are in this building that has three different levels … which is a lot of maneuvering. Operationally, people need to understand, I think, that this building, as charming and quaint as it is, costs a lot to operate. We have three off-site storage units – self-storage units. To store thing like holiday decorations, things like program materials.”

Paying staff to transport items back and forth to storage units all adds to the operational cost of the library, she said, as well as having check-out desks on the first and second floors.

“All of these things contribute to our operational costs and point to why we are looking to create a facility that is equipped with energy efficiency and technology that can help us do our jobs more cost-effectively,” Lazaris said. “The schematic design piece is really the key here. … We need to definitively be able to say what’s going to be in the building, how large the building is going to be [and] develop a real cost for the building.”

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