Mayoral candidates weigh in on library expansion project

By Erin Kolb

The four candidates running for mayor face an array of issues, and one of those is the proposed library expansion project.

City Council is in the process of securing funds through grants, bonds and local matches to expand the size of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St. The proposed expansion of the 19,000-square-foot library would add more than 45,000 square feet, according to a Feb. 27 Daily Chronicle article.

Candidate Jennifer Groce thinks funding of the library expansion project is a good thing for the city.

“I think the project is an excellent project in terms of how we propose funding, which has been split between state grants, local funds the library is putting in as well as city of DeKalb donors, and the private match they are proposing,” she said.

Candidate John Rey also thinks the joint funding effort will be beneficial.

“The library project is an excellent public-private partnership that involves state, local, public and private resources,” Rey said. “I would hope that private philanthropy components can be secured in the state eligibility grant of $8.5 million and will be available through local match.”

Rey said this $8.5 million grant, which would come from Illinois’s $24 million project fund, will hopefully be accompanied by $7.5 million in TIF funding. This funding will hopefully be supplemented $6 million in private match.

Candidates David Jacobson and Mike Verbic support the expansion of the library, but are a bit hesitant about the cost of the project.

Verbic offers a solution to help with cost efficiency.

“I suggest matching the $8.5 million grant so that it may be utilized, but keeping a much lower cost per square foot,” he said. “The project is at $358 per square foot. We built the elementary school at $172 per square foot. I can’t see the cost of the library project doubling the costs of an elementary school, The project should be capped at $17 million, which brings the cost down to $253 per square foot. This means the city would match the grant and be able to utilize that with the $1 million in savings the library has accumulated, along with the city bond $7.5 million. Any donations and public investment could be used to reduce that debt.”

Jacobson said his main concerns with the library are technology and education space, accessibility and overall space.

“I’m a bit weary right now in approving the amount of money they’re asking for–it seems that the size of the facility is a very, very large size and I don’t know if it’s been proven they need that large a size,” Jacobson said. “Obviously with those three concerns of mine, I think there are other options out there in the current marketplace, especially the marketplace we’re dealing with right now, that can allow the library to offer those services for the residents at a considerably cheaper price than they’re talking about spending on building this new building.”

Jacobson said he hopes the library will structure its proposed loan so that it’s clear the library will be responsible for these funds, and the cost of the expansion will not affect taxpayers.

Groce said she does not believe taxpayers will be affected by the city’s bond.

“The way I’ve heard this explained is the current bond for the $7 million project here will not negatively affect the city’s bond rating, but this is it, we’re sort of tapped out as far as bonding goes,” Groce said. “While we certainly have other means for major projects, we just need to be considerate of that type of financing as part of the overall so that we can move forward on a project like that.”

Though Groce said the city is “tapped out” of money from bonds, the library is still successful in its progress.

“I commend the library on their aggressive efforts to make this funding work,” she said. “They should be commended for bringing an $8 million grant to their community, that’s huge. Now we just need to go forward and hopefully we have all of the financial pieces we can put together for this really great project.”