By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — The view from the crest of the Jefferson Street bridge shows off what Lynn Stainbrook considers some of the new Rockford Public Library‘s most brilliant features.
The curtain wall of roughly 50-foot tall windows shows how natural light will pour into the new facility when it opens next year. And from the bridge you can also see the multi-level outdoor terrace taking shape.
“That side is going to be stunning,” said Stainbrook, the library’s executive director.
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Construction is progressing on time for the new main branch to open in late spring 2024, but that’s not without lingering issues. There are still outstanding supply-chain issues that could delay the delivery of servers that are essential for the library’s digital network. And, there’s still the matter of who and how a $6 million cost overrun will be paid.
Inflation pushed the projected $33 million cost of constructing the new main branch at 215 N. Wyman Street along the Rock River to roughly $39 million. ComEd, which had to tear down the original main branch to conduct an environmental cleanup at the site, agreed to pay the initial cost. The new main branch is being rebuilt on the original site after that cleanup was completed.
The power company’s agreement with the library took inflation into account, but those rates were expected to be 3-5%. Instead, inflation hit record highs in the summer of 2022, including a record 9.1% spike in July 2022 about nine months after construction broke ground.
Stainbrook said the library doesn’t have many options if ComEd doesn’t pay the additional costs, or if a private donor doesn’t fill the gap.
“We do have reserve cash, but it’s already spoken for. It’s all meant for other projects,” she said. “There’s no spare $6 million that doesn’t already have plans for it.”
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The library and the power company are in negotiations about the extra cost, but neither agency will speak about those discussions publicly.
“We have always valued the relationship we have with the library,” said George Gaulrapp, the company’s external affairs manager. “We look forward to the day the library opens and for all the benefits it will bring to the community.”
The exterior of the new 68,000-square-foot, three-story library is nearly complete, Stainbrook said. The inside is just starting to take shape, but the interior work is expected to pick up by the end of August.
“I can walk in now and go, these are where the restrooms are going to be here’s where this office is going to be. Here’s where the meeting rooms are. Here’s where the new books are going to be,” Stainbrook said.
She said construction is expected to be substantially complete by the end of November, and a move-in date would happen between Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
“It’s starting to look like something from the outside,” Stainbrook said. “It is fun to start to see it.”
Moving in, moving out
Once the library moves into its new digs, it would empty out the Hart Interim Library, 214 N. Church St., and put it up for sale.
The library’s deal with ComEd requires the building to be on the market for two years. If it doesn’t sell in that time, it would remain under library ownership for it to decide to use or continue trying to market it for sale or lease.
“It’s a nice building and the downtown location is good; it’s worked very well for us,” Stainbrook said. “But it’s retail or office space, and I don’t see either one of those being in demand right now. Certainly not office space.”
Stainbrook also still hopes to see the site north of the library redeveloped. Bush Construction, a Davenport, Iowa-based developer, backed away in 2022 from its plans to build a six-story, 85-unit apartment building next to the library.
The company’s decision to back away, Stainbrook said, came as inflationary issues drove up the cost of construction. Those same issues ran up the price of the library’s project, which was already about a year in when Bush pulled the plug.
“I still think there’s a real potential for that development.” Stainbrook said. “It’s riverside property. It’s great. I’m hopeful we’ll still have a developer or somebody who will come along and purchase that space and want to do something with it.”
This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @KevinMHaas.