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$6 million tune-up planned for Harold Washington Library

The Harold WashingtLibrary will get $6 millirepairs. | Sun-Times

The Harold Washington Library will get $6 million in repairs. | Sun-Times

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Updated: November 27, 2013 6:08AM

Chicago’s showcase Harold Washington Library is in line for a $6 million facelift — including a new roof, generators, heating and cooling systems — courtesy of tax increment financing.

TIF funding for the library equivalent of a 100,000-mile checkup for the 26-year-old central library — and the same for the 30-year-old Sulzer Regional Library — is tucked away in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2014 budget.

Since 2003, upgrades to the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State, have focused on public service areas.

A so-called “popular library” was opened on the first floor to provide easy access to best-selling books, DVDs and other high-demand items. Five-thousand square feet of teen space was also added to the ground floor that includes You-Media.

A “computer commons” was installed to make way for a lab with 140 computers. The city has also improved Wi-Fi and made major upgrades to the massive building’s life-safety and emergency systems.

The $6 million overhaul, expected to be completed next year, will focus on the things that library patrons feel, but don’t necessarily see.

It’ll replace lighting, heating systems, cooling towers and malfunctioning generators that are supposed to keep the juice flowing and the data center working, even during a power outage.

The giant hulk of a building’s sometimes-leaky roof will either be repaired or replaced. The project also includes exterior tuckpointing and facade work to the library’s distinctive exterior.

“This building is the largest free-standing public library in the country — 10 stories, each a city block. Five thousand people walk through the doors every day. You’ve got to address these maintenance concerns to maintain the longevity of this 100-year building,” said Library Commissioner Brian Bannon.

“We definitely get a lot of feedback from patrons about the building not being comfortable. Sometimes it’s too cold. Sometimes it’s too warm. These are really not sexy upgrades. Visually, our library patrons won’t see a lot different. But the experience will be different. Heating and cooling issues will be addressed. The roof won’t leak.”

The $5 million overhaul at Sulzer, 4455 N. Lincoln, will bring the overall TIF expenditure in 2014 to $11 million.

It includes a new roof, windows, facade, skylights, heating and cooling systems for what Bannon calls a “smaller, but still huge” building that has had “even less repair” than the Harold Washington Library.

“When you don’t address those issues — and Woodson [Chicago’s other regional library] is an example — they cause damage that’s more costly to address,” he said.

Barring what he calls, “unforeseen circumstances,” Bannon said the goal is to keep both libraries open and at full service during construction. Sulzer serves roughly 1,500 patrons each day.

“They might have to rope off a portion of the circulation desk to provide access to the heating and cooling systems. But we won’t postpone or stop services,” he said.


Twitter: @fspielman

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