An iconic Oak Park event – involving 100,000 books, dozens of volunteers and hundreds of book-loving buyers – that’s been going on every year for the past 40 years is currently without a home. And the nonprofit organization that puts on the massive book sale each year is frantically looking for a new location before this summer.

Every year since 1980, Friends of the Oak Park Public Library has been hosting its annual book fair at Oak Park and River Forest High School. The event raked in $60,000 last year alone, money used to fund programs the library wouldn’t otherwise offer.

But in 2010, OPRF plans to embark on an ambitious, two-year construction plan that will likely cost $7 million this year alone. The large scope of that work will push the book fair out of the south cafeteria until 2012, forcing organizers to find another location for the next two years, said Steve Kirshenbaum, president of the Friends’ board of directors.

“I’d like to know within the next month, so I don’t have to worry about this anymore,” he said.

No alternative space is available in the high school, according to OPRF spokeswoman Kay Foran. The Friends have held initial talks with village hall seeking help, and the village has offered a vacant former car dealership that it owns at 260 Madison. However, that would be a last resort, said Kirshenbaum, because the property isn’t air conditioned – essential when volunteers are lugging thousands of books around for a month in the heat of summer.

The Friends started their annual book fair in 1970, holding it at Scoville Park right next door to the library. But the sale kept growing, and eventually it settled into the high school in 1980, where it’s been since. Kirshenbaum, who has worked at the fair for 17 years, says that OPRF has previously done construction while still finding a way to accommodate the sale.

“I can’t think of a summer that I’ve been there that some construction hasn’t been going on in the building in some way, shape or form,” he said.

But this is the biggest construction project OPRF has undertaken at a single time since 1967, Foran said. That was the year the school constructed an addition to connect its field house to the main building. The work this summer includes updating parts of the school’s ventilation and plumbing systems and fixing elevators. OPRF’s board was expected to finalize the scope of the 2010 project tomorrow.

OPRF will use the south cafeteria for storage while construction goes on in other parts of the building. The school also has to accommodate its summer programs during that time. The work has been long-delayed and OPRF is facing deadlines from the state to fix certain safety issues, Foran said. .

“There’s not an alternative this summer,” she said. “There just isn’t the space, period.”

“We do understand the library’s frustration,” she added later. “We feel extremely bad that we can’t accommodate them. Clearly, we have the desire to continue to host it at the high school, but we do have a vintage building, and it is in need of continual maintenance.”

So the search will go on for the Friends of the Library. They need a 10,000-square-foot space that would be available from July 1 to Aug. 10 to set up for the sale, which happens the first weekend of August. The Friends haven’t paid rent, though they did pay the high school about $1,500 for air conditioning and security. They’re a nonprofit, so donation of the space would be tax deductible.

Anyone willing to help can e-mail Steve Kirshenbaum at sakirsh@gmail.com.  

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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