Brookfield Public Library officials on Tuesday kicked off their effort to inform residents and build support behind a campaign to construct a new library building, with the first of four “community engagement” sessions at the St. Barbara Parish Hall.
The two-hour session was officially hosted by Place 2016, a group of citizens formed from the library’s ad hoc Facilities Advisory Committee. Members of the group were well represented among the 40 or so people at the meeting, accounting for something more than a quarter of the total.
Place 2016 appeared to largely succeed in achieving one of its main goals on Tuesday — convincing the residents who did attend the session that the present library building is simply too small to accommodate all of the programs the library has to offer.
Yet, even those supporting the library’s push for a new facility, were unsure just how the community would respond to potential property tax hike to pay for one.
“I’m concerned about funding,” said Marilyn Todd, one of the Brookfield residents who came out to find out more about the library’s plans. “How much can older people afford with this stuff? It’s a big concern.”
Deborah Topolski, another resident, said she likely would vote in favor of a tax hike for a new library, but she was also torn on the potential cost. Just a week earlier, the village of Brookfield pitched an idea to raise taxes for an ongoing road improvement program.
The tax increase for that measure is estimated to cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $400 more per year. That also appeared to Topolski, who said she’d also like to see sewer capacity addressed.
“As a homeowner I’m worried about raising taxes to get that fixed,” Topolski said. “I’m living on a street that floods like a pond. I want that fixed, too.”
Topolski, Todd and just about everyone else the Landmark talked to at the meeting, however, came away impressed at just how much the library offered residents.
Library Director Kimberly Coughran ticked off a list of offerings provided within the library’s 13,500-square-foot facility, comparing what Brookfield offers compared to the much larger libraries in the smaller towns surrounding it.
The next smallest library out of list of seven nearby facilities — North Riverside, Broadview, Riverside, Westchester, LaGrange Park, LaGrange and Western Springs — was Broadview’s, at 16,300 square feet.
Yet Broadview’s collection has just 81,000 items compared to Brookfield’s 129,800. Brookfield Library also circulates more than seven times the number of items that Broadview does, according to numbers provided by Coughran.
According to Coughran, Brookfield’s circulation total was higher than any other library on the list, including LaGrange, which has a 33,500-square-foot building. Its collection was third largest of the libraries on the list.
Beyond that, Coughran said, the Brookfield Public Library offers programming for both children and adults. Due to space limitations, however, the library turns away hundreds of people who would like to participate in those programs.
And those who come to use the library in a variety of capacities, from kids using it for tutoring sessions to adults running small businesses, compete for its limited space.
Coughran showed photos of patrons sitting in hallways and played audio of what the library sounds like after school, when two school buses routinely drop off children at the library. It’s not a quiet environment.
When the library wants to host what they believe will draw a crowd, it does so after hours on Fridays to accommodate them in the main area, because the largest meeting room can hold just 31 people.
“Even then we’re still not confident we can fit everyone who wants to come,” Coughran said.
One particular program that surprised citizens who came to the meeting was the library’s BLAST (Brookfield Library After-School Time) program, a supervised after-school program that includes enrichment opportunities, homework help and activities for children in grades one through five. There is no cost to participate in the program, which is held Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. during the school year.
Because of the limited space, the program can accommodate just 18 children, who win places in the program via a lottery.
Kate Marshall said it was a shame so few kids were able to participate in the program.
“Others can come [to the library] but it’s not supervised or supportive, and that’s imperative with what’s going on these days,” Marshall said.
Dennis Behring said he was surprised the library didn’t charge a fee for the BLAST program and that so many people were being turned away from programs. He also expressed some consternation that people were using the library and its technology infrastructure to operate small businesses out of the building.
Todd was impressed with the breadth of programs offered, but also wondered whether the library was trying to do too much given its constraints.
“It can’t be everything to everybody,” Todd said. “Where do we draw the line?”
Asked what the takeaway was from the first community engagement session, Coughran said she believed officials were able to convince even skeptics that there was a need for a larger library.
“When educated about the library’s severe space constraints combined with constantly increasing demand of its services and technologies, even the most conservative ‘don’t raise my taxes’ residents conceded the library and the community’s need, followed by their own suggestions for the what the future Library building should look like,” Coughran said. “The engagement sessions are proving to be an invaluable vehicle for both educating the community and for soliciting their feedback.”
The most recent plans submitted to the village of Brookfield shows the library would like to construct a roughly 33,000-square-foot building at 3541 Park Ave., on land the library purchased in 2012 from the Brookfield United Methodist Church.
The cost of the building is estimated at about $15 million, with the library likely to seek a referendum to fund about $10 million of that cost. The library board earlier this year set a tentative date for a referendum in November 2016.
Library officials will be in front of the Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission for a final planned development review on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave.
The library’s preliminary planned development application was approved by the village board in 2012.
The next community engagement session, which will focus on library programming, will be held at St. Barbara’s on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Two others to be held in 2016 will focus on finances and the facilities plan.