STATE ASSIST: The Galewood branch library was recently helped by state funds that could be used to build a new location. | Chicago Public Library

The prospect of a Galewood branch library moved closer to becoming reality thanks to the recent Illinois capital bill, which was signed into law earlier this summer. 

Tucked away in a long list of capital projects throughout the state of Illinois is up to $600,000 for a grant to the Galewood library for reconstruction projects.

State representative Camille Lilly (78th) said that she worked with state Sen. Don Harmon (39th) to include the Galewood allocation in the bill, but she emphasized that the money won’t actually be available until tax revenue and proceeds from bond sales come in. And it will be up to the Chicago Public Library system and the City of Chicago to figure out exactly how that money will be spent, and whether additional funds would need to be raised. 

The Galewood branch library was previously located at the intersection of Grand and Sayre 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 Chicago Public Library system came up with what was supposed to be a temporary solution by putting it in a 400 square-foot room in the Rutherford Sayre Park fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave. Since then, local elected officials and residents have lobbied local government officials for a larger, full-fledged branch.

During a July 17 ward meeting, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes Galewood and the library location, said that former mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged funds to build a new Galewood branch library near Sayre Elementary School, 1850 N. Newland Ave. Taliaferro, however, said he felt that the site was not suitable for a library because of traffic congestion and insufficient parking.  

Currently, he’s working with Five Thirty One Partners LLC, which is looking to redevelop the former U.S. Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave. and two nearby parking lots. The developer expressed willingness to include a branch library on the first floor of the refurbished bank building. Taliaferro said that he hopes to use the funding allocated under Emanuel to help the project along, but he emphasized that this was something that the library system would need to sign off on. 

When asked about the capital bill allocation, Talaferro said that, while he was aware that Lilly tried to include the funding for Galewood branch library, he didn’t know any more details about the allocation. 

“We have been advocating for a full service library to replace the current library in Galewood for some time,” Taliaferro added. “The neighborhood of Galewood and community of Montclare are seriously underserved by the current branch.”

Chicago library system spokesperson Patrick Molloy indicated that the system was still trying to figure out what the bill actually contained. He explained that the task was complicated by the sheer size of the bill, as well as the fact that some of the allocations were rolled over from earlier bills that didn’t become law. 

Lilly said that she was well aware of how much the community wanted a full-fledged branch library, and that she has been trying to get the funding for years.

“I have worked with the community and both aldermen [Taliaferro and his predecessor, Deborah Graham], and with the General Assembly to make sure that it is a priority,” she said. “Galewood was promised a library three mayoral administrations ago, and that never happened.”

But actually making it happen, Lilly said, isn’t as simple as including it in the capital bill. She said that the grant will be funded through a combination of bond sales and tax revenue, and neither has arrived yet. 

“The city doesn’t have a plan yet for where they want the library, what they want it to look like, and how much it’s going to cost, but they’re looking at it,” Lilly said. 

She said that she doesn’t have any concrete time table related to when the money would come in or when the library system will finish planning, but Lilly reiterated several times that the fact that the funding is in the capital bill is already a major step forward.

“It may not pay for the whole thing, but [the allocation] was to excite the community and excite the city that the State of Illinois heard their cry for the library,” she said.


Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...