By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — On the first floor of the future downtown Rockford Public Library, Bridget Finn sees the potential for one of the most popular indoor playgrounds in the city.

At the core of the future Youth Services Department is the Imagination Station, a two-deck play area with a climbing structure, a slide, a performance stage and built-in puppet theater.

“This is going to be the favorite place for kids to come and play, especially when the weather outside may not be so great,” Finn said. “We plan to get them in with the fun things to climb on and then keep them here with the books.”

The new $39 million library, which is being built on the site of the former one at 215 N. Wyman St., is expected to open by late spring or early summer.

One of the focal points of the interior is interactive areas designed to help children fall in love with literacy, Finn said. There are play-to-learn areas close to the riverview, where massive light pours in through large ceiling-to-floor windows. There is an illumination toy where children can move cylinders of light around a control board and there are child-friendly computer stations with chunky buttons and no access to the internet.

“This entire area is designed for kids to fall in love with their library and engage in play that will then contribute to their literacy,” Finn said Friday while leading the Rock River Current on a tour through the construction site.

Photos: Future downtown Rockford Public Library under construction

There is also a tween area with cubby-like cutouts where they can cozy up with a book. And, there is a craft room and video gaming room dedicated for tweens. There are also areas for teens with designated study areas and other spaces.

Data shows providing youth of different ages helps them develop both their learning skills and independence, Finn said.

"This library is the spot for kids to fall in love with literacy-rich environments," Finn said. "They're going to be able to play and they're going to enjoy it the way they do any park. Then they're going to have access to all kinds of classes, events and collections that will turn them into readers."

There are areas for people of all ages to enjoy, too, whether it be the outdoor tiers where you can relax with a view of the Rock River and the Jefferson Street bridge or the indoor second-floor quiet reading room with a dual-sided fireplace and large windows overlooking the river.

There is also a media lab for podcasting and video creation that includes a green screen. Near the main entrance on Wyman will be a drive-thru to pickup or drop-off books.

"When you have a building like this that's beautiful and pleasurable to spend time with, and it gives you a view of your city that you haven't had before, you want to be there," Finn said. "That helps us to build community pride. It helps us to spend more time with our neighbors. It helps people kind of get out of isolation and realize we're all part of one community."

The library is being built after ComEd, which had previous ownership ties to the property, was required to demolish the former main library branch in order to conduct an environmental cleanup of contaminated soil beneath the structure. The site had a history as a gas plant dating back to the 1800s. ComEd also paying for about $36 million of the $39 million project.

The new 68,000-square-foot library has been designed to take better advantage of its riverfront location with walkable pathways - rather than roadways - near the riverfront and stunning views from inside and outside of the library. There is a parking garage beneath the library.

"I think that people who live in Rockford will be incredibly proud of their library and choose to spend time here," Finn said. "This is a beautiful library and it's something that we can all be very proud of."


This article is by Kevin Haas. Email him at khaas@rockrivercurrent.com or follow him on X at @KevinMHaas or Instagram @thekevinhaas and Threads @thekevinhaas