Bloomington holds public hearing on $22.8 million library expansion

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — The City of Bloomington looked for community input Monday night on a nearly $23 million renovation to the city’s public library building.

Monday, the city held a public hearing for the project that would raise the property tax levy for city residents.

About a dozen Bloomington residents showed up at the government center in Downtown, to voice their opinion on the project in front of city council. Most of them said they supported a tax increase for a more modern library.

The $22.8 million would be the library’s first major expansion since it was built in the 1970s. At the time, the city’s population was around 40,000 people. Now, the city’s population has doubled to nearly 80,000 residents.

Staff said the project would greatly increase the amount of space to keep up with the growth of the community.

Supporters at Monday night’s council meeting said the current facility is outdated and does not meet the needs of the current community. Others said there’s limited space for study groups, individual learning, and noted similar communities have nicer facilities.

The addition, if finalized, would add meeting rooms, study spaces as well as recording studios for podcast or music making.

Noah Tang, a history teacher, spoke in support of the project Monday and said the library is more than just an amenity, it’s a public service.

“Public libraries are one of the last places people can go and not expect to spend any money. With commodification and division of the public realm, many of our most vulnerable; the elderly and the youth need a dedicated space to learn how to interact with each other as citizens of our community,” Tang said.

Those against the project said the city needs to prioritize its spending elsewhere and do not support any more increases in taxes.

Library staff also announced Monday night, they were awarded a $5.68 million Public Library Construction Act Grant from the Illinois State Library for the expansion and renovation project.

Director Jeanne Hamilton said they can receive the grant money if they can get more than $15 million in matching funds. Those would come from the increased tax levy.

However, with the grant, the city would not need to give the project as much money as initially thought. Finance Director Scott Rathbun said the increased levy would be less than the November projection; decreasing from a 23.15% estimated increase to now just an 18.12% estimate.

Rathbun said thanks to the grant, the anticipated bond need also decreased from $17 million to $14.2 million. In addition, the city would only have to pay off $850K per year, rather than the estimated $1.1 million from November.

The adjustments from the grant will be applied to the final levy. The final levy will come before council’s approval/disapproval next week, Monday Dec 13.

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