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Independence Library To Get A Permanent Home, And Some Live-In Patrons

By  Heather Cherone and Patty Wetli | October 21, 2016 12:07pm | Updated on October 24, 2016 9:44am

 Supporters rallied for a permanent home for the Independence Library, closed following a nearby fire.
Supporters rallied for a permanent home for the Independence Library, closed following a nearby fire.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

IRVING PARK — More than 100 years after its founding, the Independence branch library is finally getting a permanent home, city officials announced Friday.

Independence is one of three branches that will be built as part of an arrangement between the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Library to locate libraries within new mixed- or low-income housing developments.

The initiative puts Chicago on the forefront of redefining shared spaces, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking at a news conference held at the Northtown branch library in West Ridge.

The libraries will take up the ground floor in the new developments, with affordable housing units above for seniors, veterans and other qualifying tenants, according to officials.

The potential is for the libraries to become places where people learn as much from each other as from books, Emanuel said.

"Urban planners and policy folks have been talking about this idea for years," said Eugene Jones, CEO of the Chicago Housing Authority.

The difference in Chicago: "We're not talking ... we're doing it," he said.

The new 10,000-to 14,000-square-foot Independence branch will be built at 4024 N. Elston Ave., which is currently the Hollerbach Funeral Home.

The CHA board of commissioners approved a $1.975 million purchase agreement for the property, located two blocks from the library's current location, according to Molly Sullivan, CHA spokeswoman.

Under one roof, the building will solve two of the area's issues: the need for a new Independence branch library and the creation of more affordable housing for seniors, Ald. John Arena (45th) said.

"There was so much advocacy toward this," Arena said. "What stone could we overturn to do this?"

Construction is expected to take at least two years, following a design competition that Emanuel said he hopes will draw applications from Chicago's top architects.

The goal is to create buildings that are "artistic and aesthetically pleasing," the mayor said.

Emanuel did not field questions following the press announcement. Neither Jones nor Commissioner Brian Bannon of the Chicago Public Library could offer specifics on how the developments will be funded. The number of housing units to be provided at each site has also yet to be determined.

Roberta Bole, president of the Friends of Independence Library, shares her enthusiasm with Ald. John Arena (45th). [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

None of that dampened the enthusiasm of Roberta Bole, president of the Friends of Independence Library.

"I checked to make sure it wasn't April 1st," when she first heard the news, Bole said.

"Oh my gosh, it's finally come true. It's a wonderful day," said Bole, who's spent years advocating on behalf of Independence.

"Roberta Bole has been a fighter. She testifies, she goes to every meeting," said Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), who credited community activism for pushing the needs of Independence to the front burner.

The Independence branch has been housed in a series of temporary leased locations since its founding in 1889, including the past 20 years at 3542-3552 W. Irving Park Road.

The library has been closed due to smoke damage since October 2015, when an extra-alarm fire destroyed the building next door.

The fire spawned a campaign to create a permanent, state-of-the-art home for the Independence branch, with residents complaining about the library's shabby conditions, outdated technology, cramped space and lack of parking.

Supporters' hopes for a new building were nearly dashed earlier this year when indications pointed to the library reopening at the same, albeit renovated, Irving Park Road storefront. (The status of a lease at that location remains unclear, officials said.)

Aldermen Laurino, Arena and Ramirez-Rosa (35th) had all agreed to put Tax Increment Financing dollars toward a new Independence library, but the Irving-Elston TIF in question isn't producing any significant revenue, Laurino said.

"Our intentions were good but we weren't able to find the dollars," she said.

The mixed-use housing-library solution is one "I would never have thought of," Laurino said. "This is just a beautiful collaboration."

Ald. Margaret Laurino, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and community advocate Roberta Bole at the announcement of a new home for the Independence branch library. [DNAinfo/Patty Wetli]

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