The River Forest Public Library is seen on Monday, May 10, 2021, on Lathrop Avenue in River Forest, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

The need to replace an aging heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit has presented River Forest Public Library officials with the opportunity to provide additional space for programs and services.

Library officials presented their plan to construct a 16- by 25-foot masonry enclosure on the north side of the building at 735 Lathrop Ave. to village officials at the May 10 virtual village board meeting, the first step in the planned development process. Deborah Hill, library board president, and Emily Compton-Dzak, library director, explained the plan to install the new HVAC unit in the proposed enclosure, then convert the 400-square-foot mechanical room inside the building occupied by the current HVAC unit next to the children’s room into space that could be utilized for programs, community meetings and as a gathering space for children and their families.  

Library officials have already secured authorization from officials of the River Forest Park District, which owns the property, to proceed with the project. 

Trustee Katie Brennan’s concerns about the addition affecting the adjacent park property were assuaged by Compton-Dzak, who said the ballfield next to the library would not have to be moved to accommodate the addition. 

“For several years, library staff has been working toward an exciting project that could provide more community space to River Forest residents,” library officials said in a press release. “The Barbara Hall Meeting Room, the library’s only meeting room, is typically in near constant use, and the library anticipates high demand once COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings are lifted.”

Compton-Dzak, who was appointed director in January, said library officials plan to solicit bids in July and are targeting September as a start date for the project, which she estimated will take 6-8 weeks to complete. She explained they are targeting the fall due to weather considerations since the building will be without heat or air conditioning during a portion of the project.

“This makes sense,” Cathy Adduci, village president, said in support of the project.

After village officials reached consensus, May 10, for the project to move forward, library officials will proceed with filing a planned development permit, which is required because the library is located in the public, recreational, institutional zoning district.

Lisa Scheiner, acting village administrator, explained that while the mechanical equipment is considered an “accessory use,” the construction of the enclosure triggers a requirement for a planned development permit. 

Compton-Dzak said staff members have been “hard at work lately, expanding service bit by bit” as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened. 

She said if the village’s Development Review Board approves the project, the next step will be the design phase, in which library staff members and stakeholders will work with an architect to envision how to best utilize the space that would become available for the public.

According to library officials, park district commissioners approved the drafting of a memorandum of understanding between the two entities at their April 12 meeting, subject to the park district attorney’s review.

Plans call for the 8- by 13-foot air handler unit to be installed on a concrete pad and surrounded by the masonry enclosure that would be placed on a one-foot-wide, 42-inch-deep concrete footer. Officials expect that any noise from the air handler unit will be mitigated by the masonry enclosure. 

The library opened its doors in 1905 in a small storefront property on Park Avenue. The current building, designed by Prairie School architect William Eugene Drummond, was completed in 1929. An addition to the building was added in 1989.

Join the discussion on social media!