Progress Report of Downtown Library’s Renovation

by Tyler Maritote

Peoria Public Library renovation

Peoria Public Library renovation

Alyce Johnson hasn’t been fired, demoted nor is she being forced out of work like Milton in the 1999 hit “Office Space.”

However, she has been moved to a lower level – literally.

Her and her co-workers at the library, with the exception of administration, have been working in the basement for the last month courtesy of the massive renovation project at the downtown library. Administration is working on the third floor.

“Worst of all, I can’t see outside,” Johnson said.

Her co-worker, Public Relations representative Trisha Noack added that they can’t see whether it is raining, snowing or if the sun is shining.

Johnson’s duties have also changed. Usually she is the librarian in charge of the children’s department.

“But there’s no physical children’s department right now,” Johnson said. “So we’ve kind of combined the adult and children’s staffs and everyone is doing a bit of everything right now.”

Her now widespread duties include having to retrieve a lot of books.

Ed Szynaka, the Library Director, said they only have a handful of books out for the public to browse.

“It’s a selection that you might find on a best sellers list,” he said. “The rest has to be retrieved by librarians from a very dungeon-like space.”

In addition, Johnson, Noack and Szynaka have to park a few blocks away because the only parking available directly outside of the library is metered parking for the public.

“It’s so we get our exercise,” Johnson said.

That will all change in early 2011.

The nearly $10 million renovation, which is part of the $28 million bond issue approved by the Peoria City Council over a year ago to overhaul the entire library system, is set to provide a light-well, which is like a “giant skylight,” as Noack phrased it, so no one will have to guess the weather anymore. Attached to the bond approval is a .04 percent increase in property tax to pay back the 20-year bonds.

A new-look, canopied entrance, redesigned restrooms and a glass staircase are also in the works.

The basement the library is currently operating out of will be turned into a computer lab and will also have a used book store.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Johnson said.

What Johnson is most excited about, though, and true to her department, is the new children’s space.

“It’s going to be fun and very kid friendly,” she said.

There also may be some worker-friendly additions in the works with an automated self-checkout system on the main floor. There is no need a fear a “Grapes of Wrath” style layoff according to Szynaka who said the library system will maintain the same number of staff, although some may be reassigned to other branches.

Also in the opening of the fully renovated library will be the return of the genealogy department, which is currently at the WTVP building on State Street. Many people have already gotten lost in the library looking for it.

“A number of people have said this is a hassle,” Noack said. “But they also admit to being excited.”

Noack wants the public to know that the downtown library is still open.

“There may not be a place to sit down,” she said. “But you can still get the materials.”

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