Highland Park, News

Highland Park library’s expansion plans inching closer to City review

The most visited building in the City of Highland Park is ready for some big changes.

During a City Council committee of the whole session on Tuesday, May 28, representatives from the Highland Park Public Library offered councilmembers an early opportunity to check out what could be in store for the local entity’s next chapter.

Library Board Vice President Carol Wolfe and Executive Director Heidi Smith walked the council through the library’s proposed plan for expansion while highlighting the several reasons the building addition is necessary. 

According to Smith, the budget for the 7,800-square-foot addition is approximately $7 million and officials hope to break ground in the first quarter of next year. 

Wolfe told the council that the library’s plans for expansion go “back quite a long way.”

According to Wolfe, in 2017, a comprehensive needs assessment study revealed the limitations of the current library while also providing public feedback on potential future improvements. 

A few years later, in 2020, the Highland Park Library underwent an interior renovation to address some of the needs that were identified in the 2017 study. 

Updates that year included remodeling the library’s existing spaces to create a youth services storytime and program room, a middle school room, and five additional group meeting rooms. But the library did not add any square footage during the process, Wolfe said. 

The library’s board of trustees as well as its administrators then initiated a three-year strategic plan for 2022-’24, according to a city memo. 

Officials utilized information collected from focus group sessions, the 2017 assessment and community surveys to earmark eight priority facility improvements “to help the library meet the community’s needs and desires for an expanded physical space,” the memo reads. 

Officials hope a library expansion can break ground in 2025.

Library officials then narrowed the improvements to five areas that the impending expansion will prioritize: increasing accessibility, expanding the youth services area, improving historical preservation, creating larger meeting spaces and adding a creative workshop. 

Wolfe touched on key aspects of each of those priorities during the May 28 session, noting that the expansion will increase accessibility by adding an ADA-accessible elevator and restrooms.  

“Everyone is welcome in the library and we want to be sure that we make it easy for many of our patrons,” she said. 

Regarding the youth services area, Wolfe said the expansion will provide more space for seating, for play, for programs and reading, and for added activities. 

“The library’s youth services area is smaller than all of our neighboring libraries and really does not allow us to provide the full service that we want to our community,” Wolfe said, also noting that the Highland Park Library’s youth services capacity is 0.19 square feet per capita, while it is 0.36 in neighboring Deerfield and 0.53 in Northbrook. 

Expanded and improved space for the library’s archives are also part of plans, Wolfe said, adding that the updates will add temperature and humidity control, elevator access and a room for patrons to view requested historical materials. 

The library’s expansion will also make way for larger gathering spaces. The library’s current auditorium holds just under 90 people, which Wolfe and Smith noted was insufficient for many programs. The larger, more flexible space would hold up to 175 people. 

Expansion plans also include the addition of a creative workshop that will feature “cutting-edge” equipment, Wolfe told councilmembers, adding that it will provide “our community with the opportunity to learn new skills with the support of the library staff and hopefully to engage and collaborate with others who might have similar interests.” 

Smith guided the board through specifics on the project, offering particular details about the current proposed location of the addition. 

Under the library’s current plan, the addition would be located to the west of the existing building. Smith said that library officials felt that location would be a “better balance of funding, function and form.” 

Smith also discussed why project planners opted to not construct the addition to the east or south as well as highlighting the less than ideal conditions of building up.

Adding to the east would require a larger and more costly expansion because of the need to relocate library services inside the building while adding to the south would require significant below-grade construction. 

If the library’s plans to expand to the west were to move forward, a transfer of property with the Park District of Highland Park would need to take place.

The park district, city and library are set to meet later this week to further discuss the disposition of property, officials said at the meeting. 

While councilmembers did show strong overall support for the library’s plans to expand, the proposed location did draw some concern from the board as it would minimize green space to the west of the library. 

Councilmember Anthony Blumberg said he felt “very uncomfortable with expanding to the west,” citing the loss of green space as a key point of contention.

Blumberg asked library officials to reconsider the possibility of building upward, saying that could offer more future benefit although it’s a more expensive option. 

“It’s a major commitment by our community and I don’t want to be shortsighted,” he said. “We could gain a lot more space by building up.”

Councilmember Annette Lidawer shared a similar concern, noting that she is “troubled deeply” to lose the green space in an area that can be considered the “centerpiece of town.”  

Library officials will next be submitting their plans for review by Highland Park’s Planning and Design Commission in July, Smith said. The commission could publicly review those plans at a meeting in September. 

The library’s overall goal is to put the project out for bid in January of next year with the hope of breaking ground in March of 2025, per Smith.  

Current forecasts estimate an 18-month long project that will be completed in phases. The library is planning to remain open and service the community throughout construction, officials said. 

A potential ribbon-cutting for the new addition could take place in August of 2026.

City Manager Ghida Neukirch prefaced the library’s presentation by saying that city officials have not yet conducted a zoning analysis of the project but that they’ve been working closely with the library on their plans thus far.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.

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