Chatham Residents Impatient for Young Library Expansion

By Wendell Hutson on February 15, 2013 6:40am | Updated on February 15, 2013 7:54am

 Expansion plans were announced in 2008 for the Whitney M. Young Library branch in Chatham, but as of Feb. 15, construction had yet to begin.
Expansion plans were announced in 2008 for the Whitney M. Young Library branch in Chatham, but as of Feb. 15, construction had yet to begin.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHATHAM — Five years ago the city announced plans to expand the Whitney M. Young Library branch, but residents wonder if they will have to wait another few years before the project is done.

The Public Building Commission this week approved a $1.2 million federal grant to perform an environmental cleanup on the expansion site next to the library, but that isn't expected to be done until toward the end of this year. And officials say they haven't secured the funds to actually complete the expansion.

Residents are growing impatient.

City officials "make promises all the time to the black community and do not keep them," said Doris White, 51, who grew up in Chatham. "If this library was in Lincoln Park or downtown they would have been finished expanding it, but because it is in the black neighborhood they figure we can wait."

The vacant lot adjacent to the 11,000 square-foot library at 7901 S. King Drive was previously occupied by a dry cleaners. Expansion plans include expanding the library to 16,500 square feet.

A cleanup "is necessary due to pockets of contamination from a cleaning establishment which occupied one of the lots," said Ruth Lednicer, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Library.

But while the environmental cleanup is expected to be finished later this year, Lednicer said there is still no timetable on when the expansion would begin. That's because the commission, which is overseeing the project, has not yet secured money to pay for it.

"Once funding is secured we plan to demolish the current building and build a new one," she said.

Lednicer said a library this size typically costs as much as $16 million to build.

The Whitney M. Young Jr. branch opened in 1973, replacing two storefronts that opened in 1927. The library was known as the Chatham Branch but was renamed after the former executive director of the National Urban League.

Residents such as Mario Patterson want to see more computers installed once the library expands. White, who is unemployed, said she also uses the computers at the library for job searching.

 Doris White uses the computers at the Whitney M. Young Library branch in her job search. She said a library expansion in Lincoln Park "would have been finished" by now.
Doris White uses the computers at the Whitney M. Young Library branch in her job search. She said a library expansion in Lincoln Park "would have been finished" by now.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

"There are 10 computers here and the average wait time to use one is an hour," Patterson said. "That's too long, but I guess I should consider myself lucky because not all black neighborhoods have a library."

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