DNA Info: Could New Library Make West Ridge A City Destination? Residents Hope So

WEST RIDGE — A new library and senior housing complex along Western Avenue is what many residents hope will reveal West Ridge as a hidden gem neighborhood worth traveling to, residents said at a community meeting on the project Monday night.

“We want the library to put us on the map,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th). “We want West Ridge to be a destination.”

The 6800 N. Western Ave. branch is one of three new mixed-use libraries and housing facilities slated to open across the city, including others on Taylor Street and Elston Avenue, and is a collaboration between the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Library and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.

The ground floor of the structure will include a 16,000-square-foot library, which will be topped with several floors containing 30 units of affordable housing for senior citizens.

Architects from design firm Perkins + Will, along with representatives from Chicago Public Library and the Department of Planning and Development, presented initial concepts for how the library portion of the building could look Monday.

“The mood is very good, it’s a great design,” said John Kane of the West Ridge Community Organization and LEARN West Rogers Park. “I personally love the idea that it’s going to be facing Western Avenue because one of our initiatives is to integrate the library in with Warren Park and the surrounding commercial development of Western Avenue, that whole stretch between Pratt Avenue and Lunt is a hidden gem.”

An early drawing of what the library’s front lobby, art wall and information desks could look like. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Between the new library, Warren Park and Lickity Split Frozen Custard on Lunt Avenue, neighbors said the library has the potential to create a strong pedestrian-friendly area.

“Not a whole lot has changed on Western Avenue,” said Denise Eichhorn, who lives in a house two blocks from the site of the future library. “It would be nice to make it a destination.”

However, two main concerns from neighbors were addressed Monday night: the library’s modern design potentially clashing with surrounding 1920s bungalows, and the amount of parking available.

The building is currently slated for about 31 parking spaces, including at least two for people with disabilities, though the final number and parking lot configuration is still up for consideration.

Andrea Telli of the Chicago Public Library said generally larger library branches offer 1 parking space per 1,000 square feet, which would equal 16 spaces at the new 16,000-square-foot West Ridge branch.

Doug Smith, managing principal with Perkins + Will, said last month city rules require only 0.3 parking spaces per one-bedroom unit of senior housing.

“I think there has to be more thought given to the parking,” said Kathleen Reyes, a writer for local 50th Ward Follies blog.

Others, like Eichhorn, said she didn’t think parking would ultimately be an issue, citing public transportation, walking and biking.

“If people really want to get to the library, they’ll find a way,” she said.

Though official renderings have not yet been presented, initial concept designs shown Monday night by Perkins + Will drew a mixed reaction, with some calling the structure an “ultra-modern eyesore” and wanting a more classic style, and others praising it as a potential “landmark.”

“It’s on Western Avenue — Western Avenue is not for bungalows,” Eichhorn said.

Early designs for the space show abundant natural light provided by wide windows throughout.

The library would be split into a lobby and community spaces, individual meeting and reading rooms, an early childhood area, space for school aged children, teen and media center, adult space and green areas on the rooftop as well as a Western Avenue-facing courtyard.

The color concept would revolve around shades of orange, green, brown and aqua blue.

Jeff Saad, a senior designer with Perkins + Will, going over the distinct areas within the library. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

David Tabak, Eichhorn’s husband, said it made sense that a library built today would look different from structures built nearly a hundred years earlier.

“The older libraries were built for a 20th century concept of a library, this is obviously built for the 21st century,” Tabak said. “I think [the criticism is] ultimately fear of the unknown.”

But, with the library set to open in December of 2018, Reyes said she’d really like to see official renderings and have “more concrete information.”

Silverstein said architects would present more solid plans soon.

Overall, many who spoke thanked designers for taking community feedback to heart and applying it to early concepts.

“I think the architects are really trying, they seem to be doing a very good job,” Reyes said. “There’s a lot of information to incorporate, everybody has a different idea.”

After a design competition that started late last year, Perkins and Will was selected from a group of three semi-finalists competing to design the library.

Headquartered in Chicago since 1935, the firm worked on the Rush University Medical Center, O’Hare International Airport, the Jones College Prep campus in the Loop and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum — along with a number of mixed-use libraries.

Tabak said the library where the meeting was held felt like it was built for “a commercial transaction” rather than a community space, which is what they want to avoid.

A space that transitions between the library’s entrance and information desks into the main book area. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

A space for school-aged children that includes computers, individual and group seating and low-level shelving. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

A reading/study space in the main “adult” part of the library. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]

Ald. Debra Silverstein speaking with residents Monday night. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]