Back in 2009, Linda Sokol Francis began buying up property in the 3400 block of Grand Boulevard, right across the street from her financial services business, with a view toward building a community center/Methodist Church.
The Brookfield United Methodist Church at 3541 Park Ave., where she and her family were longtime members and where she wielded great influence, was old and expensive to maintain, the congregation was aging and dwindling.
A new community center church would be a legacy gift to Brookfield, a community center that could be used by the entire community while providing the Methodist congregation a modern place to worship.
The village of Brookfield interrupted that dream, though Francis hasn’t given up that hope. In 2012, the Brookfield United Methodist Church sold its property to the Brookfield Public Library, whose board of trustees had a dream of its own.
Saddled with a small, obsolete library at 3609 Grand Blvd., the library board saw the old church property as its chance to build a new facility. The board hired an architect, drew up plans for a $14 million facility, and got the plan approved by the village board.
The only thing they lacked was the financial wherewithal to make it happen. In 2016, the library board took the matter to voters, who turned down taking on $10.3 million in debt, which would have resulted in a property tax hike.
So, the library shifted gears, coming up this year with a smaller library – costing about $10 million. The trouble was, they still lacked the money.
Until last week.
Francis, who had been saving money to fund her dream of a community center/church about a block to the northwest, donated $1 million of that savings to help fund the construction of a new library.
As it turned out, the donation was the critical piece of the puzzle. The library board by the end of 2018 will have saved about $6 million in taxpayer dollars in a special fund created for the project. The library board has also lined up a bank loan of up to $3.5 million.
Francis’ gift makes all of the numbers work, and a foundation formed by friends of the library aims to raise even more money to help defray the amount of debt needed to build the new building.
In exchange, the library board has agreed to rename the library. The exact name has yet to be worked out, but from our perspective the name is irrelevant.
There is some chatter that somehow this gift and the renaming of the library takes the library away from the public. That’s ludicrous. The library – whatever its future name – is and will continue to be operated, funded and maintained by Brookfield residents for the common good of Brookfield.
What the new name recognizes is a woman who has worked for the common good of Brookfield – as a resident, taxpayer, business owner, elected official, tireless volunteer and philanthropist — for decades.
That someone believes in the village of Brookfield so much as to hand it a $1 million gift to make a new public library a reality is amazing, a cause for celebration.
Thank you, Linda Sokol Francis.