HPPL expansion to support children’s programming and events

Library patrons and community members got their first look at the designs for the Highland Park Public Library’s long-planned expansion, which staff said would address several priorities involving programming, space and services.

The presentation was held in the library’s auditorium Tuesday evening, Feb. 27, and featured both library staff and the project’s architects.

Library Executive Director Heidi Smith said the library has been discussing an addition “for several years,” and in 2020 completed an interior renovation that addressed some of the needs for the building.

In 2021, she said the Library Board passed a strategic plan, with the help of the community, to prioritize what still needed to be done. Ultimately, Smith said, what came of that plan was an addition that, if all goes as planned, would be built from 2025 to 2026.

Among the issues the addition would address is space for both children’s programming and events.

“Tonight, our auditorium, this is serving us very well,” Smith said. “If 87 people had come to join us tonight, this would have been just right. Most of our programs welcome more than 100 people and so we need a larger space to accommodate our popular programming.”

Another challenge the addition would address is the library’s limited archive space on the second floor.

“Our archive space is undersized and it is not appropriately temperature- or humidity-controlled,” Smith said. “We need to improve that in order to be the stewards we want to be for the community’s history.”

Highland Park Public Library presentation on its expansion project.

Darren Schretter, with architecture firm Studio GC, went over the proposed 7,700-square foot addition, which would be built on the west side of the library.

New meeting rooms would be the focus of the addition.

“This is really about the meeting room … that’s going to serve upwards of 175 people in a seated capacity,” he said. “So, we no longer have to take over the adult services area to have those large format programs.”

He added that the new meeting room will have a divider to allow for two events to happen simultaneously.

Schretter said the youth services department would also be expanded.

“You’re going to see a considerable amount of glass so that as the kids are in those spaces, they have more opportunity to really connect with that space,” he said. “And a lot of that space is meant to be saved as part of this project.”

The new youth services department will be 25 percent larger than the current one, according to Schretter, and include two new accessible family restrooms and an expanded children’s work area for staff.

The addition would also allow for a restructuring of the current library spaces, including the lower level where the auditorium is located. The = auditorium would be converted into a “makerspace,” a workspace meant for collaboration and learning.

The remainder of the lower level would be used exclusively by library staff.

“One of the things we really wanted to focus about on (the lower) level is that there is currently a mixture of public and private staff use and it is a little bit combined,” Schretter said. “There is not a clear security break between the two and this opportunity with moving the meeting room upstairs gave us an opportunity really try and focus the separation of staff area and public area.”

The archives would also be expanded into two rooms, which will both be climate-controlled.

A larger elevator will also be built, allowing for more accessibility. Schretter said the current elevator will remain for staff use only.

Responding to questions from the public, Smith said the new meeting room will not have graduated seating like the auditorium does but will include a stage.

“The auditorium is a lovely, lovely space,” she said. “Unfortunately, it does sit empty a majority of the time as it’s not very flexible for our other programming needs.”

Regarding cost, Smith said she was “reluctant to give a specific number when we don’t have it,” but estimated that the expansion would likely cost between $5.5-$6.3 million. She said the project would be funded by issuing bonds of up to $4 million in collaboration with the City of Highland Park, and the balance is expected to come from the library’s special reserve fund and any fundraising or grants.

Smith added that the library would continue to receive feedback from the public regarding the plans, and said that was the reason for holding Tuesday’s meeting.

“We don’t want any of this to be decided in a bubble,” she said. “If it’s for the community, it’s got to be of the community.”

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