Antioch library celebrates completion of $9.6 million expansion

Patrons drawn to children, teen areas, as well as dedicated space for at-home workers

Library Director Jennifer Drinka reads a children's book to her nieces, Mia Groth, 3, of Libertyville and her sister, Emma, 5, on May 13 in The Neighborhood, during the Antioch Public Library District Open House in Antioch.

ANTIOCH – Bookmarks recently handed out to those visiting the Antioch Public Library District help tell the district’s 101-year-old story.

“Welcome to the next chapter.”

The first Antioch library opened May 13, 1922. The library district celebrated the completion of a $9.6 million renovation and expansion exactly 101 years later to the day.

The yearlong project included a 9,000-square-foot addition to the library’s 31,000-square-foot building at 757 N. Main St. in Antioch. The community now has 40,000 square feet of space to gather, study, work and enjoy, library leaders said.

“When you step into the library, it really looks complete and beautiful,” said library Director Jennifer Drinka, an Antioch native who visited the library weekly while growing up. “We were just so excited to be able to open our doors.”

Fully open for business, the library hosted a May 13 open house with tours, demonstrations of new technology, food, drinks and speeches by many involved in the project.

Funded by a narrowly passed referendum in November 2020, the renovation and expansion grew out of both a need to modernize the building and to meet the needs of a growing, changing library community, Drinka said.

The library district serves about 26,000 in Antioch, Antioch Township and parts of Fox Lake, Spring Grove and Newport Township.

A community survey several years ago helped shape the project, which was designed by architecture firm StudioGC.

“Everything or most everything that people had expressed an interest in when we were looking for input from the community, we’ve been able to provide,” Library Board President Paul Hettich said.

Among the many additions and renovations are an expanded space for children, a dedicated teen area, more study rooms, a work area supporting small businesses and home-based workers, a studio space for hands-on projects, an enlarged and improved meeting room, a fireplace reading room and a coffee area.

Along with the additions, the library standbys – computer labs, copy services, research materials and, of course, book checkout – remain popular, Hettich said.

“Every single different area, there where people there,” Hettich said. “It was nice to see patrons enjoying everything from the traditional parts of a library I remember to where we are today with a teen area and children’s area and a room downstairs where they were making crafts.”

Since the project’s completion, Drinka said, the library has drawn both familiar and new faces. The children’s and teen areas especially have been popular, as well as the work area, she said.

“What’s been especially gratifying is seeing people set up shop and work all day, people that work from home and want to get out of their houses,” she said. “It’s a space to get away.”

Families are enjoying “the neighborhood” in the children’s area, a space with cubbyholes shaped like houses. Children can sit inside with their books and read, Drinka said.

With the project completed in phases beginning March 1, 2022, the library for the most part remained open, closing the building only for about two weeks, Drinka said. During that time, curbside pickup remained open, phones were answered and off-site programs still were held, she said.

Those seeing the library for the first time since renovations began are quick to comment, she said.

“They come in and just kind of look around amazed and say, ‘I didn’t vote for this, but this is amazing,’ " Drinka said. “We hear that all the time.”

The renovations included not only comforts such as more comfortable seating, but structural improvements, including a new roof. The library earned a $90,000 state grant to make the entire building accessible, including newly renovated bathrooms, Drinka said.

“There’s nothing left untouched,” she said.

Even the outside of the library is changing. With the help of fundraising, a garden walk is in the works. Winding around the library, the walk will include a path, a patio with chairs, year-round umbrellas and landscaping, Drinka said.

“It’s just a peaceful kind of respite if you’re walking into town or to the library,” she said.

Through a penny jar project, children’s donations have funded bright, colorful wind art that will be installed as well, she said.

The garden walk will include the Tom Hausman Rose Garden, dedicated to the library board’s former president, a major force behind the renovations. Before his death in January, Hausman had told library leaders his two goals were to walk his granddaughter down the aisle and to be at the library’s grand reopening, Drinka said.

He was able to walk his granddaughter down the aisle, but did not make it to the reopening, she said.

Another force behind the renovations, Kathryne LaBuda, the library’s director for 35 years before Drinka, died in December 2022. Like Hausman, she was at the groundbreaking but not the reopening. The Kathryne LaBuda Children’s Department was dedicated in her honor.

“It’s been a bittersweet celebration,” Drinka said.