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Albany Park ponders interim without library

Thu, Nov 1, 2012

Albany Park’s library branch is being torn down October 31 and a new facility will be completed on the same spot in two years. But in the meantime, neighborhood residents have gathered 1,600 signatures on a petition requesting a temporary library. It is a request they say has been ignored.

The current library is at Foster and Kimball Avenues and members of the Coalition to Save and Improve the Albany Park Library say they have a potential interim site five blocks away, at 4730 N. Kimball, according to spokesperson Kathryn Pensack. Their proposed site is an apartment building with empty ground floor retail space that could be used for the library, Pensack said.

“We will spend $15 million for the new library but for $100,000 we could have had this building for two years,” Pensack said. Real estate agents told the group that the asking rent was $6,200 per month, which they thought could be negotiated down to $4,000, she said. The site is halfway between Roosevelt and Von Steuben High Schools.

The Coalition to Save and Improve the Albany Park Library, which was formed from members of Occupy Chicago, West River Neighbors, and Albany Park Neighbors for Peace and Justice, has nearly 400 signed letters from students in favor of the temporary library. They use the library as a place to do homework after their schools close each day, Pensack said. “It’s a safe place for teenagers to go after school and also a place for people to use computers to look for jobs.”

The current library has other community amenities: a children’s program and a collection of Korean books that reflects the neighborhood’s ethnicity, she said. The next closest children’s program is two buses away “and two years is a lot in the life of a child.” The Korean collection will be boxed up and unavailable until the new library opens. Although the Budlong branch has some Korean books, Pensack said members of the community have told her the Albany Park branch has the predominant collection.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th ward) had two community meetings regarding interim services but Pensack said the solutions were insufficient. The community was offered the use of Northeastern Illinois University’s library but signups ended in September and the facility is closed to people under 18. She said Laurino told her the City could not afford the temporary library.

Laurino’s office referred StreetWise to the Chicago Public Library for comment. Director of Marketing and Communications Ruth Lednicer said the new branch will be built with Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money, which has restricted uses. TIF money can be used for as bricks and mortar and the purchase and environmental remediation of the neighboring site, which was a former gas station. But the money cannot be used for rent, and there are no other funds available to build out the space for staff needs, for accessibility to people with disabilities and even the weight of the books, Lednicer said.

She said sign-ups for the NEIU Library had been posted early in the Albany Park branch and could also be accessed there. The Teacher in the Library program will move from the closed branch to the Albany Park Community Center, thanks to funding by the Chicago Public Library Foundation.

“We are doing more than we have ever done in any location to make services available,” Lednicer said. “I understand the inconvenience and appreciate that they love their library. But the payoff will be a brand new library in two years with all the things kids in that neighborhood deserve.”

Written by Suzanne Hanney,
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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