Most of the work on the lower level is complete, and materials and furnishings are already going into place as sprinkler work wraps up. Above, the view from the downstairs landing toward the Early Learners room, which was completed last year. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

The reopening of Riverside Public Library’s lower level, where a large-scale renovation of its Youth Services Department is largely complete, has been delayed until at least mid-June and possibly early July after officials were told they needed to install fire sprinklers throughout the downstairs area.

News of that wrinkle came when about 80 percent of the renovation was already complete, said library board President Ken Circo, despite the $1.5 million project plan being OK’d by the village last fall.

The revelation reportedly came during a routine library fire inspection walkthrough months after constructed had started. The fire department apparently had not seen the building plans prior to construction, and neither the library’s architect nor the person reviewing the plans on the village’s behalf flagged the lack of fire sprinklers as a problem.

“From our understanding … if a project exceeded a certain dollar amount, then the project needs to be fully sprinkled,” said Circo during an interview at the library last week.

A peek at another space in the Youth Services area. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

That requirement actually is part of the 2006 edition of the International Building Code, which the village adopted several years ago. The code states that for any existing building more than 2,500 square feet, sprinklers are required if alterations equal 50 percent of the building replace value or exceed $150,000 in construction costs.

Circo said the library board’s argument against the requirement was that they weren’t changing the use, building footprint, occupancy or square footage. When the library renovated the lower-level Early Learners space in early 2020 – it was used to illustrate what the library envisioned for the lower level as they sought voter approval for a bond referendum that March — that work also didn’t trigger the sprinkler requirement.

“The architect didn’t see it in his code review, the plan reviewer working for the village didn’t see this, the fire department didn’t know about it,” Circo said. 

After initially kicking around an idea about perhaps limiting sprinklers to means of egress, library officials decided erring on the side of safety was better.

“When there’s kids in here reading, patrons using all the spaces – are we safe?” Circo said. “Yes, we are and the safety of our patrons is also important to us.”

Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances said the miscommunication was due to the village allowing the library to submit build-out and fire alarm plans separately.

“Unfortunately the architect and the plan reviewer both overlooked the sprinkler requirement,” Frances said in an email, adding that the village no longer allows plans to be submitted piecemeal.

“Permit applications must be complete when submitted,” Frances said. “This is to ensure that this error does not occur again.”

In February, the library board agreed to award a $48,490 contract to Elgin-based Fox Valley Fire & Safety for fire sprinkler design and installation, but that cost would change as the design process got under way.

In April – the month library officials had initially chosen as the ribbon-cutting for the completed project — the board increased the Fox Valley contract to $62,510 for fire sprinkler final design and installation.

Those expenses do not include the cost for permits and plan review or costs for repairing walls that needed to be cut to accommodate the sprinklers, which will be painted to better blend in with the ceiling.

Officials also worried initially that they might have to install a pump system if the municipal water supply did not provide enough pressure to charge the sprinkler system, but it turned out a pump or new water line weren’t needed.

The sprinkler requirement caused a big delay as engineers worked out the design for the sprinkler pipes, which must travel through walls and around doorways, beams and ductwork.

Installation of the system did not begin until May 12 and Library Director Janice Foley said she hoped the installation would wrap up by the end of the month. The final repairs and painting of the sprinkler pipes will follow that work.

Despite the surprise expense, Circo said the entire renovation project is able to be funded by the $1.5 million construction bond approved by voters in March 2020.

Apart from the sprinkler work, rooms have been built out, carpeted and painted. Furniture, book shelves, the Youth Services main desk and library materials are already being moved to their final locations.