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The Allerton Public Library District’s three-year search for land ended Dec. 21 when library trustees bought a 10.98-acre piece of property on the west edge of town. The plot, located at 4000 Green Apple Lane and formerly owned by the Carle Foundation was purchased for $250,000.
Plans are to eventually construct a library of about 14,000 square feet, according to library director Lisa Winters, although she added that they will build only what is within their budget and can be maintained without raising the district’s tax rate.
“It’s exciting to move on to the next point, because I would really like to see a new library before I am gone,” said Winters, who has worked at the facility since 1977, the last 15 years as director.
A significant assist in the building process will come from the estate of Max Hency, a 1941 Monticello High School graduate who died in 2005 and left $2.9 million to the library through his estate.
The library has been at its current location at 201 N. State St. since the building was constructed in 1897. At that point it took up a small portion of the ground floor and was funded by the opera house that also operated out of the structure. The Allerton Library renovated and expanded into the former opera house area in the 1940’s, and now takes up about 5,000 square feet of the building.
Winter said trustees originally looked for another centrally-located site in which to relocate.
“I think that’s why it took so long to find a site, because we so badly wanted it to work in town, but it just wasn’t working. It says a lot about Monticello – it’s just so vibrant that there just isn’t anyplace downtown,” said Winters.
It is also difficult to renovate existing structures to accommodate libraries due to the weight of the books.
As for the more remote location, Monticello Director of Community Development Callie Jo McFarland said the city already has plans to extend a bike trail to its proposed 30-acre recreation complex, which is located just north of the new library site.
“This takes a site that’s available and puts it to use, and gives us an incentive to finish the next part of our bike path so there is easier access to get there,” said McFarland of the property that lies just off of Old Route 47.
It is also close enough to the Apple Tree subdivision that it has McFarland excited about future of the area, which lies close to the Interstate 72 exit.
“The west side interchange is such a vast resource, and this gives us a step toward developing that interchange,” said McFarland. “It also puts a physical appearance at the end of that subdivision, so maybe we can fill in some of those lots.” She estimates there are about 20 buildable lots available between Apple Tree and the new library land.
The library district paid $135,000 less than the appraised value of the land, but Scott Harding of Carle Foundation said it was still a good deal for both sides.
“It was really good to work with the library. They had a need, we had a need, and it worked out for both of us,” said Harding, the company’s vice-president of facilities and support services.
The Carle Clinic formerly on the property had operated out of portable buildings until moving to it’s new facility that adjoins the new Kirby Medical Center. The portable structures on Green Apple Lane are gone, but infrastructure such as water, sewer, paved parking, lighting and even some landscaping remain.
“There’s a lot of money tied up into that property,” said Winters. It’s also money that the Allerton Library District and its taxpayers do not need to pony up to develop the property.
And although library use in general is down across the nation, it is on the rise locally. That is verified by the Library Journal, which has given Allerton a perfect five-star rating for the past three years.
“There’s a lot of talk about libraries just not being used any more because of everything being in the ‘cloud’. But our statistics keep rising. We are very busy,” she said. “People are still using the library; they’re just using it in a different way.”
The library still has 35,000 volumes, but the hot area is the two public access computers. Due to heavy use, patrons are limited to a 30-minute session per day. Wifi internet access is also so popular that it can slow down computer use for library employees.
“The day after Christmas we had about 30 people logging into the wifi. We just don’t have the bandwidth to accommodate that, and it slows all the computers down,” said Winters.
She praises the 1897 structure for its service as a library, but said it now fails to meet several Illinois public library standards, including patron seating, shelving space, lighting and handicapped accessibility.
A library building plan created in 2008 will be reviewed and refined before formal plans for a new structure are drawn.
Samuel Allerton made a donation to help fund construction of a library/town hall in 1897. The Allerton Public Library has been at that location since that time, although in different portions of the structure. In 2008, trustees hired library building consultant Fred Schlipf to develop a library building program.
A year later the search began for land to house a new library structure. Architect Mark Misselhorn of Apace Designs in Peoria was hired in 2010 to help in the selection of a site.