West Town Library Update

by Aaron Bilton

For the last two years the East Village Association has been working with community groups, park advisory councils, schools, and the chamber of commerce from the area in order to bring a much needed new branch library to the West Town neighborhood. These groups have formed the Coalition for a West Town Library. The Coalition has met on a regular basis with the four aldermen in the area in order to bring our concerns to City Hall. All of the aldermen (Ald. Flores, Ald. Burnett, Ald. Ocasio former Ald. Matlak and new 32nd Ward Ald. Waguespack) recognized the need for a new library and voiced their support for the library. Some time ago the aldermen met with the Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, Mary Dempsey, to ask her to bring a new library to the neighborhood. They also brought this concern to Mayor Daley last winter, and the Mayor has expressed his support.

The current plan is to consolidate the existing storefront branches at Eckhart Park and the 2300 block of Chicago into a newly constructed building to be located at the site of the existing AAA building on the 1800 block of Chicago Ave. This site is the preferred site of Commissioner Dempsey as well as the Coalition. The site is centrally located in the West Town neighborhood. It is accessible by public transportation with two blue line stops within one mile and nearby stops on the Ashland and Chicago bus routes. It may also provide the basis for an expansion of Commercial Park.

Commissioner Dempsey has indicated that they are currently in negotiations with the owners of the AAA building to purchase the property. There is the possibility that the City could take the property through its eminent domain powers, but it would prefer to acquire it through a negotiated purchase. Many people have noticed the “For Lease” sign posted on the building. That sign was placed there only after the CPL was notified of the current owner’s intent to offset some of its current holding costs while the negotiations are ongoing. According to Commissioner Dempsey, the process of acquiring the land may take some time. This is not an attempt to keep the City from acquiring the property.

As of today, we are currently on the list of libraries to be built, but none of the libraries on that list will be built without the money to fund the purchase of land and the construction. Many of the most recently constructed libraries, including the new Bucktown branch, were built using the proceeds from the sale of municipal bonds. Now is the time that we need our elected officials to back up their verbal support with action. The cost to acquire the land is not going to get any cheaper, nor will the cost of construction. I have no doubt that if Commissioner Dempsey were provided with the necessary funds that this library would be built. Alderman Flores has stated that he is currently discussing the possibility of floating a new bond for this purpose with the city’s head of finance as well as the Mayor. Both Alderman Flores as well and Alderman Waguespack have indicated their desire to meet with each other as well as Aldermen Burnett and Ocasio in order to make this library a reality.
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