By Bob Uphues
Brookfield Public Library trustees' dream of building a new facility became suddenly tangible Sept. 26 after they accepted a $1 million gift to fund the project from Brookfield businesswoman Linda Sokol Francis.
The donation makes the project immediately feasible financially, the library board's financial consultant explained, and further gifts made to a newly created library foundation could reduce the amount of a bank loan trustees eventually will seek to close the deal.
"Thanks to this beautiful community, I'm at where I am now," said Francis, who moved to Brookfield in 1964, built a home in the 4200 block of Grove Avenue, opened a financial services office near Eight Corners and has been involved in local government and philanthropy. "I love Brookfield. I love the community."
In making the donation, Francis noted that her grandchildren live down the street from the library and, because they are homeschooled, visit the library often.
"They're always here," Francis said of her grandchildren after the library board voted unanimously to accept her gift. "If we can help, we're going to help."
The resolution passed by the library board on Sept. 26 states that the in accepting the $1 million gift the library and Francis will cooperatively establish a new name for the library at a later date.
That particular requirement received a bit of pushback from two library trustees, Jeanne McTeague and Michelle Svendsen, who expressed concern that library trustees hadn't been directly consulted on a naming rights policy prior to the Sept. 26 meeting where it appeared on the board agenda for the first time.
"I'd like to know why the board was brought in so late in this process," said McTeague. "It seemed if we were going to start doing naming rights that the procedure would have been that the foundation or [library director] Kim [Coughran] would come to the board and say, 'The foundation would like this tool,' and we as a group could start discussing it and talk through all the issues – what do we mean by naming? Are we naming the building, different rooms? How do we think the community would feel about it? How do we feel about it?"
Svendsen said she had not gotten answers about questions about what roles the foundation, the Friends of the Library, the board and staff would play in the capital campaign seeking donations to aid in construction.
She also questioned whether a $1 million donation, as a percentage of the estimated $10 million cost of construction, warranted renaming the library.
"Is that where we really want to set the bar?" Svendsen asked.
Michael Bruni of HUB Philanthropic Solutions, which has been advising library and foundation officials in their capital campaign, said "percentages" were not necessarily the best way to approach such a question.
"The naming of an institution is not based off of a percentage; it's based off of the ability of that particular constituency to invest in the project itself," Bruni said. "Is  percent of philanthropic contributions in this project appropriate? Of course it's appropriate, especially when you look at a project like this that has an investor that's willing to invest at this level."
Bruni also described Francis' gift as "transformational" in not only allowing the library board to move ahead confidently with its plan but as a gift that likely will spur other generous donations.
"Giving patterns follow transformational gifts," Bruni said. "Transformation investments empower others to make transformational investments. … I would suggest that a two or three million dollar investment in the future is more likely with this transformational investment, and the recognition and acknowledgement that comes with it."
While other library trustees agreed that communication between the foundation, staff and board could be improved, they had no problem with the provision for renaming the library in light of the $1 million gift.
"Are we going to wait another 20 years because we're going to squabble about this?" asked Trustee Jennifer Mack Perry. "We're lucky to have this opportunity. This building does not get built without this money."
Plans call for a 21,000-square-foot library to be built on land owned by the library at 3541 Park Ave., directly across Lincoln Avenue from the present building, which was built in the 1980s.
The building will comprise three floors, two of them above ground, at 7,000 square feet each. On Sept. 24 the library board voted to approve a site plan for a rectangular structure, the long side of which would face Park Avenue but would be set back about 50 feet from the sidewalk.
The existing library will eventually be demolished to pave the way for a parking lot. The library board bought the Park Avenue property from Brookfield United Methodist Church in 2012. That, coincidentally, was the church where Francis and her family were longtime members.
Cost estimates for the new two-story library stand at around $10 million. The library, to date, has saved about $5.3 million in a special reserve fund and the library board expects to transfer another $500,000 into the fund at the end of 2018.
Meanwhile, library officials have received assurances from the First National Bank of Brookfield that it will lend up to $3.5 million for the project, which can be paid off over 15 years at an interest rate of prime plus 1 percent.
The $1 million gift from Francis would provide the rest of the balance, though the foundation is still hoping to raise more money, perhaps as much as $500,000 in the next six to eight months, to help reduce the loan amount or the amount of money needed from the special reserve fund.
In the meantime, the library's architect is working to complete a planned unit development application for village review and approval. Officials are planning to meet with Brookfield Village Manager Timothy Wiberg in October.
Wiberg, formerly the village manager of Lincolnwood, is familiar with the library's architectural firm, Product Architecture and Design. The firm was hired to design an expansion of the Lincolnwood Public Library, which was completed in 2017.