Residents eye spot for proposed West Side library

Three locations were proposed for a full-fledged Galewood Montclare branch library

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

Residents who want the city to build a larger, full-fledged Galewood Montclare library branch recently took their pitch directly to the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors. The group of residents, called the Committee for the New Galewood Montclare Library, suggested three options that would make their vision possible. 

The options included expanding the Rutherford Sayre Park fieldhouse location or building a brand-new space, which could possibly be located at the now vacant Sears store located at the corner of North Ave. and Harlem in Galewood. The funding for any of the options could come from an outside entity, members said.

Tom Drebenstedt, a committee co-chair, said during a Sept. 25 library board meeting that the neighborhoods of Galewood and Montclare have shared a library since the original branch library opened in 1923 inside of the same fieldhouse where it currently is located. 

Over the next 80 years, the library moved to different locations, including in a building at the intersection of Grand and Sayer Avenues. That location closed in 2010 after a lengthy dispute with the building's landlord over $70,000 in property taxes and assorted fees owed to the city.

The move back to the fieldhouse was meant to be a temporary measure until a new, full-fledged location could be found, but that never materialized. CPL tried to improve the space, adding a computer and a drop box, but the location is still constrained by its size. Many amenities patrons at most other branches take for granted, most notably free Wi-Fi, isn't available, and, unlike most other branch libraries, it isn't open on Saturdays. 

Earlier this year, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) formed a committee to try to find a solution. In August 2017, it launched a petition demanding a full-fledged library.  Drebenstedt said that the petition was meant to help bolster the case the committee planned to make to the library board. 

At the time, he said that the committee came up with several locations, but he didn't want to reveal what they were until the Sept. 25 meeting. 

Drebenstedt told the library board that the first idea was to simply expand the fieldhouse and put a library in a larger space. 

"Our fieldhouse needs some work, and the idea we had is to do addition to fieldhouse," he said. "That way, we'd be sharing expenses with the [Chicago] Park District and library. We'd be able to upgrade mechanical systems."

Drebenstedt also argued that the city could take advantage Galewood/Armitage Tax Increment Financing District. 

According to its official map, the district's western edge stops across the street from the park. 

The second location was a large vacant lot between Sayer, Newland and Grand avenues, and an alley. 

To help defray the costs, Drebenstedt suggested that CPL partner with the Chicago Housing Authority to build a facility that would combine the library with new, affordable senior housing units. As he noted, CPL already teamed up with CHA to build three other branches. 

Finally, he suggested the site of the recently closed Sears store at the corner of North and Harlem avenues. Private developers have already expressed interest in the site and Drebenstedt suggested working with those developers to include a branch library in whatever they wind up building.

"We're talking with them through Ald. Taliaferro's office, to lean on them so they help us out," he said.

Drebenstedt said that they deliberately tried to put them within walking distance of the Milwaukee District West Metra Line tracks, which serves as a border between Galewood and Montclare. The idea, he said, was to have a library at a central location relative to the two neighborhoods. 

In the end, Drebenstedt said he was optimistic

"Hopefully, in a couple of years, we'll be able to get out of our 500-square-foot space and get into something more comfortable," he said.

Library Board President Linda Johnson Rice thanked him for a "very thoughtful presentation," but didn't comment any further. 

In response to a follow-up inquiry, Patrick Molloy, CLP's director of government and public affairs, said that the library's position remains the same as before — they are open to building a full-fledged branch library if there's enough funding and an appropriate location.

"We look forward to continuing the discussions with the community about the best ways to deliver library services," he said.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

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Hank Marquardt  

Posted: October 4th, 2017 12:03 PM

It's a sad little library we have today and I support a better facility -- libraries are important. That said, to take the largest, prime retail space in that's available in the area (former Sears @ North/Harlem) would be daft. That needs to be on the tax roles, generating benefit for the city, the neighborhood and the residents.

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