While Brookfield Planning and Zoning Commission hearings often can seem combative, with petitioners walking away resentful or exasperated, that wasn’t the case March 28.

As commissioners voted unanimously to recommend approval of a preliminary planned development application by the Brookfield Public Library, the hearing seemed to be the start of a victory lap in a contest library officials have fought for more than a decade.

“We worked very hard to make it a wonderful public space,” said Dianne Duner, who has served as a library trustee for the past 18 years. “And the idea behind a great public space is that it strengthens the whole community, because it brings people together in common purpose.”

Folding chairs set up in the lower-level recreation hall – the council chamber being otherwise occupied as an early voting site – were populated by library trustees, staff and supporters. 

Nine of those at the hearing commented publicly on the plan for a new library at 3541 Park Ave. Unlike the library’s two-year odyssey to gain approval for its previous plan from 2014-16, there was not a word of dissent.

There was, however, recognition that the defeat of a 2016 referendum to fund the construction of that building had been a fortunate circumstance – one that forced library officials to reevaluate its strategy and hire an architectural firm that has delivered a superior product.

“I think it was a blessing in a way that the first approval didn’t go through,” said longtime library volunteer Sandra Baumgardner, who had knocked on doors trying to whip up votes in support of the 2016 referendum, “because this new design is so much more ‘Brookfield’ in my mind and complementing the environmental values, the educational values, the public service values that I’ve experienced at the library.”

The preliminary planned development application will now go to the Brookfield Village Board for consideration, likely later this month, for discussion. Depending on how quickly the board can get the matter on an agenda, a vote on the preliminary plan could take place as early as April 22, but more likely will come in May.

If the village board OKs the preliminary plan, the library will go back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a recommendation on a final planned development application. The village board will need to also sign off on the final plan for the project to move ahead to construction.

Library officials are hopeful construction can begin in spring 2020. If the reaction of planning and zoning commissioners is any indication, their hopes are well-placed.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Charles Grund echoed Baumgardner’s suggestion that perhaps the village dodged a bullet when the building initially approved fell through.

“Two or three years later [plans] get pulled out the drawer and you scratch your head and say, ‘Wow, what was I thinking?’ I think that’s kind of what happened here.”

Grund and other commissioners praised the new library design, though Commissioner Jennifer Hendricks, who was absent but whose comments were read into the record by Village Planner Elyse Vukelich, was less excited what she called an “angular” and “stark” design. Her fellow commissioners were enthusiastic, though Commissioner Karen Miller and Hendricks urged the architects to perhaps seek LEED certification and employ as many environmentally sustainable features as possible into the final design.

Grund summed up most commissioners’ feelings about the design.

“This is, by and large, a wonderful building to have in Brookfield,” Grund said. “It’s welcoming, it allows for the use of both the interior space and the exterior space.

“I’m fully supportive of the building,” he added. “It’s just far and away so much better.”

The intention of the design – set back on the Park Avenue property and featuring broad expanses of glass – was to put the library on display, said architect Dan Pohrte of Product Architecture and Design.

Warm tones, from the bronze-tinted metal panels of the upper story to the buff-colored masonry of the first floor and the pavers of the entry plaza to the wood-tone metal fins accenting portions of the upper floor windows, dominate.

The 21,000-square-foot interior, spread over three levels, provides a 100-seat meeting room, separate areas for children and adults, a teen room, a maker space, a quiet reading room and study rooms. Staff offices would be located in the basement level, along with the main meeting room.

The present library at 3609 Grand Blvd. would be demolished after the new building is completed and replaced with a 24-space parking lot and small park. The new library, if approved, will be named the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library in recognition of the woman who donated $1 million toward the project.

Grund also noted the difference in attitude of the crowd gathered for the March 28 hearing compared to the hearings held from 2014-16 prior to the referendum when there was “a lot of negativity.”

“I sense an energy in this room that I didn’t sense three or four years ago,” Grund said. “I think the commissioners here are more excited about this, the whole process.”

One of the more poignant comments, however, came from the Rev. Karl Sokol, whose mother made the $1 million donation, and who lives with his family in the Lincoln Avenue residence that served as Brookfield United Methodist Church’s parsonage. The church itself once occupied the land where the library will be built.

Sokol admitted still feeling resentment over the loss of the church, where he was baptized and played hide-and-seek as a child, but said the new library would be its own balm. 

He blamed the village, and particularly then-Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral, for leading the congregation to believe it would be able to build a new structure incorporating a church at Eight Corners. Sbiral would recommend against the proposal, which was shot down by the village board.

“To see something beautiful [on the former church property] would be such an act of healing for the entire community,” Sokol said. “I think this is an opportunity to truly have the type of building that can reflect on the whole character of the community.”

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