As the city plans to redevelop West Humboldt Park’s Pioneer Bank, 4000 W. North Ave., the Nobel Neighbors community organization is pushing developers to include space for a new, larger North Pulaski branch library. 

While the name reflects its original location near the North Avenue and Pulaski Road intersection, where the bank is located, it has moved twice since then. The current location is a few blocks west, at 4300 W. North Ave. Nobel Neighbors argue that, at 6,000 square feet, there isn’t enough room to accommodate the needs of families and students.

The Pioneer Bank is one of the properties the city is trying to redevelop as part of the Invest South/West initiative, inviting developers to submit proposals. As part of the process, developers got a list of recommended uses, which includes a new library branch. During the May 18 virtual meeting for the Chicago Public Library Board of Directors, library Commissioner Chris Brown said that he was open to the idea. 

The city released a request for proposals for interested developers in late April, with the bids due on Aug. 31. In the meantime, Pioneer Bank, which sits at the northwest corner of the North/Pulaski intersection, opened in 2005 and continued operating as a bank under several different owners until closing in 2008. Jefferson Park-based Pulaski Investments, which purchased the building in 2015, struggled to attract development. 

Under the Invest South/West initiative, the city has been trying to attract development to vacant, usually city-owned sites on major South and West side commercial corridors. With each project, the city creates an outline for what it would want to see at the site based on existing plans and feedback from residents, businesses and other stakeholders.  

The Pioneer Bank RFP stated that bids should include “some or all” features from the list that included a new branch library, a community theater and/or other cultural space, a business incubator for entrepreneurs, an “empowerment center for youth and families with computer labs,” office space and local retail, among other features. Some of the features, such as meeting and study areas, could potentially be included in the branch library. 

According to the North and Pulaski Historical Society, the North Pulaski branch library was originally located at 1672 N. Pulaski Rd. The library was subsequently moved to 4041 W. North Ave., but the building burned down on Dec. 25, 1989. The current location opened on June 15, 1996. While the library primarily serves the West Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods, it also gets patrons from parts of Austin. 

Nobel Neighbors was part of the original stakeholder group. Nobel Neighbors board member Mindy Blanco, who currently lives in suburban Norridge, said that their priority is to make sure they are advocating for something the residents actually want. Her organization released a survey that showed the new North Pulaski branch library was one of the major priorities for residents who responded. 

William Smiljanić-Pérez, a West Humboldt Park native who currently lives in Galewood but remains involved with Nobel Neighbors, said that patrons have several issues with the current branch.

“What I’m hearing is that it isn’t large enough for families and for high school students,” he said.

Blanco said that she would like the North Pulaski branch to get study rooms, which are available in some larger, newer branch libraries, but not at any of the West Side branch libraries. She would like to see sections for kids, teens and adults, and a “sensory room” for kids whose sensory processing issues make the regular library environment overwhelming.

Blanco said that Nobel Neighbors has been attending every project-related meeting to keep track of the decisions and reiterate their priorities. When the group heard that the library board was having a meeting on May 18, they organized an email writing campaign to urge the board to support the new branch location. 

During the meeting, Commissioner Brown acknowledged the emails, and said that the library was open to that possibility, but he didn’t explicitly commit to it. 

“[The Chicago Public Library system] has also expressed interest in relocating the North Pulaski branch and shared that interest [with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development], and [that] the community expressed preference for the Pioneer Bank,” he said. “Should the developer express interest in opening the branch, we’re open to discussing that opportunity.”

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...