PORT BYRON -- The former Riverdale High School is being sought as the new home for the River Valley Library.
With an estimated cost of $9.6 million, the move to the retired school on Illinois 84 was unanimously approved by library trustees Monday night. Board president Barb Brandt was absent.
Nearly 75 people turned out to see renderings of three possible library locations and to hear a presentation by the architects, FEH Associates Inc. Along with the former school, trustees also considered spending $12 million to destroy two nearby homes and expandthe current library building or erecting a new one for $8.5 million in Rapids City.
While the former school was the board's clear favorite, it came in a close second with the public. Library trusteeRobert Simmons said 47 percent of residents' comment cards supported expanding the current building while 41 percent wanted the former school; only 12 percent were interested in a new library across the street from Dollar General on Illinois 84.
"It will keep an historic location and makes the most sense," said Mr. Simmons. "It has a large piece of land and lots of space. I think it would be a good location for a library in our community."
Jim Van Auwelaer, a 10-year resident of Port Byron, wondered if the former high school would become a maintenance money pit. Removing hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead is estimated to cost $75,000; structural repairs and stabilization costs come in at $150,000.
One obstacle is uncertainty if the school is for sale. Library board vice president Larry Bay confirmed trustees were not aware if any of the proposed properties were available.
Kevin Eipperle of FEH said Ms. Brandt had contacted all of the property owners about the library's considerations. The owners of the homes near the library, however, told trustees Monday night they had not beencontacted.
"I'm very surprised they're quoting dollar figures on properties they're not even sure they can attain," said Amber Cravens, one of those owners. "This was my grandparents' house; it's the house I grew up in."
Molly Vance, the other homeowner, said she would be interested in selling and hoped the board reconsiders expanding the current location.
Mr. Simmons said it seemed backwards, the way the proposal has been approached, but he was optimistic the school could be bought.
"I think it's a win-win for the community," said library director Shelli Fehr. "An old eyesore will potentially disappear, while getting a new library. What I really like about the school is the gymnasium ceiling. It's this incredible work of art."
FEH Associates now will move into Phase Two of design. Ms. Fehr said the library expects to obtain the former school by this summer andthe current library eventually will be offered for approximately $350,000.