West Humboldt Park residents push for new library branch at Pioneer Bank
As the city plans to redevelop the Pioneer Bank in West Humboldt Park, 4000 W. North Ave., the Nobel Neighbors community organization is pushing developers to include space for a new, larger library in North Pulaski.
Although the name reflects its original location near the intersection of North Avenue and Pulaski Road, where the bank is located, it has moved twice since. The current location is a few blocks west at 4300 W. North Ave. Nobel neighbors argue that at 6,000 square feet there is not enough room to meet the needs of families and students.
Pioneer Bank is one of the properties the city is trying to redevelop as part of the Invest South / West initiative, inviting developers to submit proposals. As part of the process, the developers got a list of recommended uses, which includes a new library branch. At the May 18 virtual meeting for the Chicago Public Library Board of Trustees, Library Commissioner Chris Brown said he was open to the idea.
The city issued a call for tenders for interested developers at the end of April, with tenders expected on August 31. Meanwhile, Pioneer Bank, which sits at the northwest corner of the North / Pulaski intersection, opened in 2005 and continued to operate as a bank under several different owners until it closed in 2008. Jefferson Park-based Pulaski Investments, which purchased the building in 2015, has struggled to attract development.
As part of the Invest South / West initiative, the city tried to attract development to vacant sites, usually owned by the city, on the main trade corridors on the south and west sides. With each project, the city creates a snapshot of what it would like to see on the site based on existing plans and feedback from residents, businesses and other stakeholders.
The Pioneer Bank tender stated that the bids were to include “all or part” of the list which included a new library branch, community theater and / or other cultural space, business incubator for children. entrepreneurs, a “youth and family empowerment center with computer labs”, local office space and retail, among other features. Some of the features, such as meeting and study areas, could potentially be included in the branch library.
According to the North and Pulaski Historical Society, the North Pulaski branch library was originally located at 1672 N. Pulaski Rd. The library was later moved to 4041 W. North Ave., but the building burned down on December 25. 1989. The current location opened on June 15, 1996. Although the library primarily serves the West Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods, it also obtains clients from parts of Austin.
Nobel Neighbors was part of the original stakeholder group. Nobel Neighbors board member Mindy Blanco, who currently lives in the suburb of Norridge, said their priority was to make sure they stood up for something residents genuinely want. His organization released a survey that showed the new North Pulaski library branch was a top priority for residents who responded.
William Smiljanić-Pérez, a West Humboldt Park native who currently lives in Galewood but remains involved with Nobel Neighbors, said clients had several issues with the current branch.
“What I’m hearing is that it’s not big enough for families and for high school students,” he said.
Blanco said she would like the North Pulaski branch to have study rooms, which are available at some larger and newer branch libraries, but not at any of the West Side branch libraries. She would like to see sections for children, adolescents and adults, and a “sensory room” for children whose sensory processing issues make the usual library environment overwhelming.
Blanco said Nobel Neighbors attends all meetings related to the project to track decisions and reiterate their priorities. When the group learned that the library board was holding a meeting on May 18, they organized an email writing campaign to urge the board to support the branch’s new location.
During the meeting, Commissioner Brown acknowledged the emails and said the library was open to this possibility, but had not explicitly committed to it.
“[The Chicago Public Library system] also expressed interest in relocating the North Pulaski branch and shared that interest [with the Chicago Department of Planning and Development], and [that] the community has expressed a preference for the Pioneer Bank, ”he said. “If the developer expresses interest in opening the branch, we are open to discussing this opportunity.”