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CL library could look to District 47 for expansion

CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Public Library officials are hopeful School District 47 is serious about offering a school building to help solve the library’s space crunch.

Library spokeswoman Linda Price, who shares an office with four co-workers, said the library desperately needs more room.

“We are almost at the point where we have to remove an item for every item we bring in,” Price said.

Earlier this year, the Library Board proposed a $28 million expansion project and asked for a state grant that would have covered $7.7 million of that cost. Officials were denied that grant, but it looks as if the library could end up getting the space it needs after all because of falling enrollment at District 47 schools.

In November, library Director Kathryn Martens emailed Superintendent Donn Mendoza and asked about plans to close a District 47 school. Mendoza is expected to respond to that email by today.

School board member Nancy Gonsiorek said closing a school is a possibility.

“We have to have it on our radar and talk about it,” Gonsiorek said. “We’ve lost a school full of kids already with declining enrollment, and we’re going to lose another school of kids in the next five years or so. That’s a lot of kids and a lot of money.”

District 47’s total enrollment has fallen by more than 300 since the 2010-11 school year.

Price said the library is in the schematic stages of acquiring additional space, and it will be some time before any decisions are made.

There are many factors that go into the library’s decision to acquire new space, including location, site size, building layout and accessible parking, Price said. She noted the ideal space would be about 7 acres and include 380 parking spaces.

Currently, part of the Crystal Lake Public Library sits on a garbage dump, which creates further limitations on the amount of weight the library can hold, Price said.

Martens said in a statement to the Northwest Herald that the total land at the library’s current location at 126 Paddock St. is “limited,” and that has “driven up the cost on that solution.”

“As stewards of public money, we have to ask if this is the best solution to the public’s problem,” she continued. “We are keeping an open mind as we evaluate alternative sites.”

The “public’s problem,” Price said, is the overcrowding of people and resources at the library. The library offers computer classes to the community, and at every class people are turned away because of overcrowding, Price said.

The library has circulated more than a million items for three consecutive years, the only library in McHenry County to cross that threshold.

Many of those books are in a downstairs storage area because the shelves are full.

“Nonlibrary users may not have the perspective we have,” Price said. “They don’t see the volume of parents that come in for story time and the number of people that use the computer.”

Price is quick to challenge the notion that libraries are antiquated because of the Internet and e-books. She pointed to the importance of the library reference desk, which answered almost 80,000 questions from library patrons last year, compared with the 1990s, when only a couple of thousand questions were fielded each year, she said.

Sarah Byham was at the library Thursday with her four children and said the limited space has affected the library’s book selection.

“It seems like every time we come looking for a book here, they don’t have it,” said Byham, who has used the Crystal Lake Public Library since she was a girl. “There are so many good books that are having to go out. They are compromising their collection.”

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