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South Branch Ready to Open Soon, Library Board Cautious

The South Branch outpost at 900 Chicago Ave. will be completed in two weeks, but budget constraints may prevent it from opening right away.

The interim South Branch library will be ready to open in two weeks, but the public may have to wait a bit longer to use it.

Though a , a lease drafted and an interior designed, the Evanston Library Board of Trustees voiced caution at Wednesday night’s meeting that voting to open without first properly planning and budgeting would be irresponsible.

Instead, the board unanimously passed a motion to meet again next Wednesday, vowing to spend the coming week crunching numbers, deducing how to staff a South Branch outpost that was unaccounted for in an already underfunded 2011 budget.

At last month’s meeting donated by the Evanston Public Library Friends to closing by supporting an interim branch for the 10-month 2011 fiscal year. Under the agreement, the Friends will rent a storefront at 900 Chicago Ave. to the library for $1 a year.

Even with this donation, though, the board will be hard-pressed to balance the 2011 library budget. Currently, the budget has less than $47,000 remaining in earmarked, undesignated neighborhood service funds, which can be spent on branch locations. However, according to a meeting handout, this is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the $142,700 in additional funds needed to fund proposed “budget issues,” which include $57,600 in staffing costs for part-time branch assistants and library clerks at the South Branch and $68,100 for the continued funding of the North Branch from September through December.

On top of these pressures, the board must balance short-term wants with long-term planning, said Paul Gottschalk, administrative service manager for the Evanston Public Library.

“Traditionally I’m reluctant to recommend any one time revenue sources for operations,” Gottschalk said. “Usually, [if we do that], it’s one-time revenue, one-time expenditure. This operation is very unique and very different, of course, because we’re in such a transition phase with the [South Branch]. The [South Branch] is really not being viewed, to my knowledge, as anything permanent, but really a transition until the board completes its planning process. So there are some unknowns about that for future budget issues.”

Such unknowns present challenges for the board when outlining for the future.

Gottschalk said that as soon as next year, he expects the library’s cost of insurance to increase, its medical budget to rise, deferred maintenance expenses to pop up and for “baseline costs” to undergo a natural growth. And though the board recently adopted a new funding model, which allows them to determine the library tax rate within a limit, Gottschalk urged against setting this mark too high during a time when the rest of the City would likely be cutting staff and services.

 “Either we have it or we don’t … and I think that’s the core issue,” said Board President Christopher Stewart of the desired funds. “We’re in an extremely difficult financial situation for the Evanston Public Library, and there are difficult decisions we have to make on behalf of the community.”

Earlier in the meeting, Thomas Ahleman of the Evanston-based architecture firm Studio Talo Architecture presented a slide show presentation to the board, detailing his designs for the South Branch space at 900 Chicago Ave.

The 1287 square foot storefront is about half the space of the former South Branch, said Ahleman, so he designed the space to be a multifunctional “library in a box.” Some of the design’s features include: no walls, a makeshift vestibule, curtains to create a separate space for children’s story time, two ADA accessible bathrooms, mobile bookshelves on rollers and modular furniture described as “Lego-like.”

Marcia Mahoney, chair of the EPL Friend’s neighborhood services committee, assured the board that the space would have computers for adults, an extensive children’s collection, wireless Internet, and periodicals.

“I think it’s very creative and I think it’s wonderful,” said board member Susan Newman. “It looks like they’re looking at a lot of creative ways of saving money. I think it’s very exciting and flexible.”

The space is slated to share bathrooms with the Subway franchise next door.

The board also unanimously passed a motion allocating $40,000 of endowment interest for the collection fund and $15,000 to enhance programming for adult, young adult and children, system wide.

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