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Local News

Joliet City Council hears $10.5 million plan for library upgrades

Property taxes proposed to pay for potential $10.5 million project

Joliet Public Library representatives brought virtual reality goggles to give City Council members a look into the future of what the downtown library would be with $10.5 million in renovations.

However, council members appeared more interested Monday in the cost of the project, asking questions about who would pay and whether the proposal should go to voters in a referendum.

Library officials at the council meeting offered more financial details on the project, suggesting the city could finance it with a bond referendum that would cost most homeowners between $6 a year and $9 a year.

The library has $4 million set aside for the project and is asking the city to provide $6.5 million so construction can start in 2020.

Library Director Megan Millen said the interior renovations are needed to create a modern library downtown.

The downtown library is a 1903 limestone building designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.

“I think everyone in the room can agree it’s an objectively attractive building,” Millen said. “Then you go through the doors, and in many ways it’s still 1991 inside.”

A 1991 addition to the building maintained its historical integrity on the outside, but the inside has not been updated to provide patrons a 21st-century library, Millen said.

Library representatives described a plan to add museum-like features for children and families, study areas for students, technology for business people and meeting and exhibition space for the community.

It was the second presentation by library representatives who brought their plan to the council Finance Committee in July.

The presentation Monday to the City Council included virtual reality technology with council members donning goggles to view a walkthrough look of artistic renderings of what the library would look like after the proposed improvements.

The council is expected to make a decision on whether to spend $6.5 million on library improvements when preparing its 2020 budget later this year.

Councilwoman Jan Quillman asked why library officials had not proposed a tax referendum.

“You are our corporate authority,” Millen said, adding that the library is part of the city and not an independent governmental body. “We do not have the authority to raise our levy or to ask the residents to raise our levy.”

Councilman Larry Hug, however, asked how any special tax for the library project would be handled, adding that residents in some parts of the city actually are in the Plainfield and New Lenox library districts.

“I think people are kind of tired of every taxing body coming and asking for $8 to $10 a year,” Hug said.

According to library officials, a 20-year bond for $6.5 million could be paid through property taxes that would range from $6.21 a year on a $150,000 house to $8.56 a year on a $200,000 house.

Councilwoman Bettye Gavin asked how the project would affect the cost of a library card for township residents outside the city limits, who are not in a library district and pay a fee to use the Joliet Public Library.

“Our nonresident rate would be recalculated, but it would be a negligible cost,” Millen said.

The project did receive support from community leaders.

Library representatives read letters from Mary Jaworski, president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Judy Mitchell, president of Joliet Junior College, supporting the project.

James Roolf, a local banker and board president of the City Center Partnership, told the council he supported the library plan as well.

Referring to other improvements being made downtown, Roolf said that “this is another opportunity to look at our future and decide what we want to be.”

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