Maze gets conditional go-ahead from Preservation Commission

Commissioners also OK eligibility for landmark status

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Both sides came away encouraged from last Thursday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting. Local architect Frank Heitzman was pleased that the nine commissioners declared the Maze Branch Library eligible for consideration as a landmark. Library officials came away with conditional approval to begin work on the renovation project.

"It's a triumph," said Heitzman, whose application presentation lasted 35 minutes.

"I learned a lot," said Historic Preservation Commission Chair Doug Gilbert said after Heitzman detailed the building's architectural significance, its association with a significant architect (E.E. Roberts and his son, Elmer C. Roberts), historic association with legendary librarian Adele Maze and its central role in the life of the South Oak Park community. Any one of those would meet the criteria established to consider landmark status, and according to the ordinance, a building only has to meet one of the criteria. The next step in the landmark process, Gilbert said, is to schedule a public hearing.

Following the landmark status decision, the commission heard the library's presentation requesting the necessary "Certificate of Appropriateness" that will allow the village to issue permits for construction work. Gilbert said the commission asked "lots of questions" of Assistant Library Director Jim Madigan and project architect Alan Armbrust, specifically about alternative options to making the front entrance accessible using a long ramp that will involve a change to the front entrance.

In the end, the commission approved the certificate with two conditions?#34;replacing the front steps with limestone instead of concrete and an Architectural Review Subcommittee inspection of the construction drawings.

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet today, so final approval could be expected by the end of the week if the review doesn't turn up any problems.

Heitzman opposes the front ramp because he says access through the front door for everyone is trumped by the need to protect the front facade of an "extremely delicate historical building."

"I'm a strong advocate for access, but in some cases, specifically with historical buildings, you just can't do that," he said.

Heitzman is also proceeding with an application to place Maze on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I have a soft spot in my heart for that library," he said. "I spent a lot of time there when I first moved to Oak Park."

Library Director Ed Byers said his understanding is that they can now proceed with the renovation project. They opened the five pre-qualified contractor bids last Thursday as planned and the low bidder came in within budget, he said. If all goes well, they should be able to start work by the end of August.

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