More than a decade after first trying to identify a site for a larger, contemporary facility, the Brookfield Public Library Board of Trustees claimed victory.
Without comment and by unanimous consent during their Oct. 28 meeting, the Brookfield Village Board approved the final planned development application for the Linda Sokol Francis Brookfield Library, which will be built at 3541 Park Ave., on vacant land the library bought for that express purpose back in 2012.
The name of the new library reflects the $1 million contribution made by its benefactor, Linda Sokol Francis, a former Brookfield village trustee and local business woman.
In addition to her contribution, a nonprofit foundation created to raise money for the library’s construction attracted another $333,000 in donations. The foundation had set a fundraising goal of $1.4 million, meaning it achieved about 98 percent of its goal.
“I was just praying a lot that’s all,” said Francis in response to a question of how she felt village trustees would receive the project. “You never have any idea of what politicians are going to do.”
Francis’ grandchildren, who live near the present library, use it regularly, she said. The new library will benefit them as well as future generations, Francis added.
“I’m just excited it’s going to be big enough for the kids to be there without being intermingled with adults,” Francis said. “It’s a safer, nicer, greater library that is going to be usable for not only my grandkids, but maybe their kids as well.”
The new two-story, 21,300-square-foot library will be located across Lincoln Avenue from the present facility, a cramped 13,000-square-foot building constructed in the 1980s. After the new library is built, the old one will be demolished. That space will be used to accommodate off-street parking and a micro-park.
The exterior of the new library will feature large expanses of glass facing Park Avenue, with greenspace in front that can be used for children’s and other programming. The first floor will accommodate the circulation desk and Youth Services area, while the second floor will house the adult and teen collections as well as quiet study rooms, a maker space and plenty of seating.
A full lower level will house the library staff offices and will also feature a dividable public meeting room that can accommodate up to 110 people.
Library board President Dianne Duner said at the Oct. 28 meeting that the library’s quest to build a larger facility began in 2007 and underwent many twists and turns before ending with the present design.
“Not everyone has followed this narrative for the 12 years that it has been evolving,” said Duner, “but the process has been open and certainly not rushed.”
Initially, the library board tried to assemble land in the 3500 block of Arden Avenue for a new building. When that failed, they were able to purchase the Brookfield United Methodist Church – where Francis was a prominent member of the congregation – in 2012.
From 2014-16, the library board shepherded a plan for a new building through the village’s approval process, and planned to pay for its construction by issuing bonds they hoped voters would approve.
However, the bond referendum failed in November 2016 and the library board went back to the drawing board. After thinking it might be possible to renovate and expand the existing building, the library board in 2018 decided to start from scratch.
Determined not to have to seek voter approval for funding, the foundation started soliciting donors. Francis’ donation in the fall of 2018 was the key to making construction possible.
In addition to the other money raised by the foundation, the First National Bank of Brookfield pledged it would loan the library up to $3.3 million. Meanwhile, the library over several years had been saving money in a special reserve fund. As of the end of 2018, the library had saved about $5.9 million.
The total cost of the new library is estimated to be between $10.5 and $10.8 million.
Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark noted that, this time around, there was little opposition to the design of the new building.
“You didn’t see that this time, and that’s what the [village] board wants,” said Ketchmark. “They want a project to work for the town.
“I think through all of it we ended up with a project that’s good for our town. We’re happy to see it move forward.”
Despite the cause for celebration, there’s still potentially one roadblock in the shape of continued criticism by one resident regarding the traffic engineering company the library board used to do a pair of traffic impact studies as part of the approval process.
Mark McCann, a resident of the 3400 block of Park Avenue, restated his belief that the studies done by Traffic Analysis and Design Inc. (TADI) were invalid and unreliable because the firm wasn’t licensed to do business in Illinois until Sept. 30.
He previously has threatened to file a lawsuit to stop construction.
“The village had a duty to make sure they were licensed, especially after I brought up issues with this traffic study all the way back in March,” McCann said. “Let’s face facts, TADI used unlicensed engineers to falsely claim this library would have no impact.”
Until he discovered the licensing issues, McCann said, he supported the library project.
“Once I saw that first traffic study, I lost all faith, because I knew it was garbage and I knew what they were trying to do,” McCann said.
Asked whether he had any concerns McCann might follow through with his threat to seek a remedy in court, Ketchmark declined to comment.
If all goes as planned, construction is scheduled to begin in 2020.