Saying he was "heartbroken" when City Council vot
ed to close the North and South branch libraries, State Senator Jeff Schoenberg presented a plan that he believes will help the City save enough money to keep them open. "City Council several months ago threw down the gauntlet. As a long-time resident of northwest Evanston whose family uses the library, I could not let that challenge go unmet," Sen. Schoenberg told about 35 people who gathered on June 21 at the main library to hear the proposal.
With Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl at his side, Sen. Schoenberg proposed a joint venture between the City of Evanston and the State of Illinois. Under that proposal, the City’s South Branch library, now at 949 Chicago Ave., and the Illinois Department of Employment Security worknet facility, now at 1615 Oak Ave., would relocate together in south or southwest Evanston.
The lease on the Oak Avenue property will expire in December of this year, Sen. Schoenberg said. The City terminated the South Branch lease as of Aug. 9 of this year, but Library officials said it could be extended on a month-to-month basis.
Sen. Schoenberg said he felt the IDES facility could use less space, which would save the state money, as it now pays more than $17,000 per month for the Oak Avenue space. The South Branch, which pays about $4,800 per month, could see savings as well. That would, said Mayor Tisdahl, "free up resources for the total Evanston Library system.
Sen. Schoenberg said he felt several of the functions of the two entities are similar: "Libraries have evolved beyond a place to check out books or hold community meetings. They are a first stop for anyone seeking a job or trying to start a new business. It’s only logical to realign other existing public resources that are available toward the same end from the state, so that we can meet the growing demands caused by these difficult economic times. … The synergies are far beyond being roommates."
He added, "I think it is possible for the Mayor and the City to come to embrace this idea." The proposal could not only save the branch libraries but could also serve as a model for other municipalities in similar straits, the Senator said.
When questioned about the possible new location of the facility Mayor Tisdahl said the City is "looking at several locations. We’re looking at the library [branch] as an economic development tool." She added, though, that an existing facility would be chosen; a new one would not be built. "I am confident there are places we could use," she said.
Some have speculated that Evanston Plaza, at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, might be the choice. The shopping plaza is less than 70 percent occupied, according to City figures. It is not, however, easily accessible by public transportation.
Emily Guthrie, president of Friends of the Evanston Library, said only Main Street at Chicago Avenue and Davis Street at Benson Avenue are accessible by both CTA and Metra.