The Harold Washington Library Center (HWLC) and the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library, both designed by Thomas Beeby, will undergo $11,000,000 in renovations, funded through TIF (tax-increment financing), as called for in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2014 budget. The Chicago Public Library’s twenty-six-year-old central library will undergo $6,000,000 in renovations and the thirty-year-old Conrad Sulzer Regional Library will undergo $5,000,000 in renovations.
The HWLC’s leaky roof will be repaired or replaced. New power generators will be installed, as will lighting, and a new HVAC (heating, venting, and air-conditioning) system.
Chicago Library Commissioner Brian Bannon told ABC-7 (WLS) and Chicago Sun-Times City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman yesterday that these renovations are being undertaken to ensure the HWLC lasts for 100 years (as Beeby’s design was intended to accomplish). It serves approximately 5,000 people a day. The Conrad Sulzer Regional Library (formerly the second iteration of the Frederick H. Hild Regional Library), located at 4455 North Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square on the Far North Side, will also receive a new roof and HVAC system, as well as new façade, windows, and skylights.
Ms. Spielman noted there have been multiple renovations of public service areas of the HWLC since 2003 (“$6 million tune-up planned for Harold Washington Library”). The Popular Library opened on the ground floor to give visitors quick access to bestselling novels, DVDs, CDs, and audio-books.
YOUmedia, which also opened on the ground floor, is 5,000-square-foot computer lab where teenagers can learn to use digital media. The Computer Commons on the Third Floor provides public access to 140 desktop computers.
WiFi throughout the building allows visitors who bring in their own laptop or tablet computers to access the Internet. Ms. Spielman wrote, “The city has also… made major upgrades to the massive building’s life-safety and emergency systems.”
The $6 million overhaul, expected to be completed next year, will focus on the things that library patrons feel, but don’t necessarily see.
It’ll replace lighting, heating systems, cooling towers and malfunctioning generators that are supposed to keep the juice flowing and the data center working, even during a power outage.
The giant hulk of a building’s sometimes-leaky roof will either be repaired or replaced. The project also includes exterior tuckpointing and facade work to the library’s distinctive exterior.
‘This building is the largest free-standing public library in the country — 10 stories, each a city block... You’ve got to address these maintenance concerns to maintain the longevity of this 100-year building,’ said... Bannon.
‘We definitely get a lot of feedback from patrons about the building not being comfortable. Sometimes it’s too cold. Sometimes it’s too warm. These are really not sexy upgrades. Visually, our library patrons won’t see a lot different. But the experience will be different. Heating and cooling issues will be addressed. The roof won’t leak.’
Bannon described Sulzer Library, which serves approximately 1,500 people a day, as “smaller, but still huge.” He expects both libraries to remain open while they undergo renovations.
 Pierre Blouke designed the first iteration of the Frederick H. Hild Regional Library (1931) at 4544 North Lincoln Avenue. The Old Town School of Folk Music purchased it and dedicated it on September 18, 1998, with a concert by Joni Mitchell.