Galewood, Montclare residents renew push for library

Residents are floating a petition urging the city to restore the full-fledged branch library

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

Nearly seven years after their neighborhood branch library was reduced to a room in a fieldhouse, residents of Galewood and Montclare are making another push to get their library back. Last month, members of a committee launched by Ald. Chris Talieferro (29th) in March created a petition urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Library Board of Directors to restore the branch.

On Sept. 25, it is planning to make a more detailed case to the library board, outlining possible locations and the possible funding sources. 

The library was previously located at the intersection of Grand and Sayer Avenues, but it closed in 2010 due to a lengthy dispute with the building's landlord over $70,000 in property taxes and assorted fees owed to the city. 

The library moved to 400 square-foot room in the Rutherford Sayre Park fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave., as a temporary measure, but a more permanent location has yet to materialize. 

In response to residents' complaints, the Chicago Public Library system tried to make some improvements, adding a computer and a drop box. But the location is still constrained by its size.  The many amenities that patrons at most other branches take for granted – most notably, free Wi-Fi – aren't available, and, unlike most other branch libraries, the Galewood-Montclare branch isn't open on Saturdays. 

During the 2015 election, which saw Taliaferro face off against incumbent alderman Deborah Graham, both candidates promised to do something about the situation. In March, Taliaferro said that he was well-aware of the problem and that the library committee is trying to figure out the solution.

Committee chair Tom Drebenstedt said that the group has been talking to Taliaferro, as well as Ald. Glbert Villegas (36th), whose ward includes the portions of Montclare that aren't part of the 29th Ward.

"We've [also] been taking a look for possible sites [for a full-fledged branch] in both wards," he said. "That's the majority of our work"

The Committee for the New Galewood Montclare Library launched the petition in the early August. In it, they laid out the case for a full-fledged facility. They noted that the current room barely has enough space for more than a few people, let alone to hold programs common in nearby branch libraries. It also pointed out that the room is next to the fieldhouse gym, which creates a noisy environment.

"Our residents deserve a library to help strengthen our diverse community, provide children with a safe place to learn valuable life skills and engage in the arts," the petition stated. "Our children need access to homework support and reading programs that help bridge the economic gap in academic performance. It would help our local businesses by providing business resources such as meeting spaces, access to computers and librarians."

Drebenstedt said that the petition was part of the case the committee was planning to make to the library board as a way to show how much support exists for a full-fledged branch.

"We're going to go to the next library Board of DIrectors meeting and present our case," he said. "We've been picking sites, and we're going to present our thoughts. And hopefully, both aldermen [Taliaferro and Villegas] will be at this meeting. And hopefully, this will show [the directors] that we need a new branch."

One of the major stumbling blocks to a new branch was funding. In recent years, the city tried to get around this by combining new library facilities with other projects. In 2013, the Back of the Yards branch library moved to a larger space inside the new Back of the Yards High School building. 

In October 2016, the city announced that the library board teamed up with the Chicago Housing Authority to build two developments that would have a library on the first floor and affordable housing units on the floods above. One would serve as a new home for Irving Park's Independence Park branch library, which was gutted by fire a year earlier, and one would become a large space for West Ridge's Northtown branch library. 

Most recently, on Aug. 17, another project of this kind, near the former site of Jane Addams Homes public housing development in Little Italy neighborhood, cleared the Chicago Plan Commission.

When asked if the committee would be open to something like this happening with the Galewood-Montclare Library, Drebenstedt said that it was one of the ideas they were considering. He declined to discuss any details about what other funding ideas they will propose, as well as what possible branch locations it would propose, saying that he would rather save it for the meeting.

"We have some ideas and we think we have couple of avenues [of funding] we want to propose," Drebenstedt said. "And after this presentation, hopefully, [the directors] will say 'keep going,' and, hopefully, aldermen will support the idea."

The Sept. 25 meeting will take place at 9 a.m. at Harold Washington Library's Thomas Hughes Children's Library, which is located on the second floor.  

Patrick Molloy, CPL's director of government and public affairs, said that the library is open to the idea of a full-fledged Galewood-Montclare branch.

"We have discussed possibilities for a permanent, full service location with local aldermen and community leaders and continue to be open to finding one," he said. "However, any new library would require an appropriate location, as well the necessary funding."

Meanwhile, the petition has been gathering steam, collecting 469 signatures as of Sept. 8. While it originally aimed for 500 signatures, it has since upped its goal to 1,000. Individuals can sigh this at: https://www.change.org/p/rahm-emanuel-build-a-new-galewood-montclare-library.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com  

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