A proposed project that would add much-needed program and meeting space to the River Forest Public Library cleared another hurdle when the village board voted unanimously to grant a planned development permit Nov. 22. Granting the permit was recommended by members of the Development Review Board at their meeting Nov. 18.

Library officials plan to construct a 15-by 25-foot masonry enclosure on the north side of the building at 735 Lathrop Ave. to house a new heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) unit, then convert the 396-square-foot mechanical room inside the building occupied by the current HVAC unit into a meeting room.

The space, located next to the children’s room, would be utilized for programs, community meetings and as a gathering space for children and their families. 

Library Director Emily Compton-Dzak said in May that 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.

When library officials first presented the plan to the village board in May, they said they were hoping to complete the project in the fall. But the planned development process, which Compton-Dzak admitted involved “a lot of steps,” pushed back that timeline. The process included a public hearing.

In addition, supply chain issues are affecting the bid process and officials are now targeting January to solicit bids. Construction, expected to take 10 weeks, would take place in either the spring or fall, avoiding the school construction season in the summer.

Compton-Dzak, who was appointed director in January, said the library’s HVAC firm has indicated the aging unit that needs replacing should hold up for another winter.

Library officials have already secured authorization from officials of the River Forest Park District, which owns the property, to proceed with the project, including negotiating a new lease that will include the additional space for the enclosure. With the current lease set to expire in July, the timing of negotiating a new lease “worked out well,” Compton-Dzak noted. 

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 1-foot wide, 42-inch deep concrete footer. One tree on the property will have to be removed.

Officials expect that any noise from the air handler unit will be mitigated by the masonry enclosure. The project will include a gate latch system on the outdoor handler enclosure that will prevent a person from being trapped inside.

The library opened its doors in 1905 in a small store front 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.

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