La Grange Park library to close the books early on $5.1 million renovation project

Construction work to wrap up one month ahead of time

Natalie Crnich said La Grange Park Public Library patrons have been loyal. The library’s temporary home is the First Baptist Church of La Grange.

The term “ahead of schedule” is seldom heard regarding construction or renovations.

Ask any homeowner.

But with fingers crossed, officials with the La Grange Park Public Library said a sweeping $5.1 million renovation project is indeed ahead of schedule.

Work originally expected to be finished May 10 likely will be done by April 5, Interim Director and Adult Services Director Gabriel Oppenheim said.

His news was warmly received at a meeting in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church of La Grange, 20 N. Ashland Ave. The church has served as the library’s temporary home since August 2023, when renovations began.

“We are thrilled. Oh, we’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’re very happy with the progress,” Oppenheim said.

The library will be closed beginning April 8 to pack up its temporary location and move into the renovated library. The move is expected to take about four weeks and the library is scheduled to reopen May 6. Library staff will not be able to offer any services at either location during the closure.

All due dates have been extended to May 6. If necessary, items may be returned at any neighboring library.

“The architect, the construction manager have been wonderful,” said Laurie Whitman, vice president of the library board.

“I have five grandkids in the area, so I’m at the library all the time. ... I’m a library geek. Look at my earrings,” she said, pointing to earrings that resembled books.

A $574,000 grant from the state helped greatly, Whitman said.

The remainder of the cost comes from savings and from $4.3 million in bond sales approved by voters in 2021, Oppenheim said.

The two-story library, 555 N. La Grange Road, is being renovated from top to bottom, Oppenheim said.

Leopardo Companies is managing the construction.

“I’m pleased. Absolutely,” he said.

Paging through blueprints, Oppenheim pointed out some highlights.

“On the lower level, it’s not the most exciting thing for the public, but we are going to have a work room for our children’s staff. They’ve never had a work room,” he said.

Another highlight is restrooms on the first floor, which didn’t exist when the building was built in 1989.

This is the second renovation. The first was done in 2005, Oppenheim said.

A “makers space” geared toward artistic endeavors also will be on the first floor.

Three study rooms have been added to the second floor.

“Students, small groups, even sometimes adults who are working [can use the rooms],” Oppenheim said.

A teen lounge also has been added to the second floor.

“Sometimes, adults can be less tolerant of teens. They’re there for a good purpose and, frankly, sometimes behave better than some of the adults,” Oppenheim said.

Oppenheim, 47, who has worked for the library for 27 years, said being located in the church “has been wonderful.”

“It’s the best space we can find in the area. We certainly had [library patrons] visiting us. Not quite as many, but we made the best of it and I think the community appreciates that,” Oppenheim said.

La Grange Park resident Lori Courtney certainly does.

“I’m just surprised and happy it’s going to be opening sooner than expected,” Courtney said.

Don Baumgart, 91, of La Grange Park said “the plans are great,” noting water damage on the building’s east wall has been addressed.

“I was hoping this would be at the library so I could see that back wall. Gabe showed us pictures and you could see it was bad material,” Baumgart said.

He said his wife, Rita Baumgart, “was one of the originals when we started the book trailer [bookmobile] that went to the schools. She’s real active in the library.”

So is Julie Gies, a lifelong resident of La Grange Park and president of the library board.

She called the progress report “extraordinarily exciting.”

She likes the “reallocation of space,” notably the teen area, makers room and study rooms.

“Working from home, if you have kids or a dog, it’s not always so great to be on a call,” Gies said of people likely to use study rooms for their jobs.

At the church, the library is scattered in different rooms on both sides of an upstairs hallway leading to the fellowship hall.

One of those rooms is divided between teen and adult books, reference assistant Natalie Crnich of Wheaton said.

“It’s been a wild ride being here. But it’s been fun,” Crnich said. “We figured out how to set things up to make it work and our patrons are very loyal. We have our regulars who still come in.”

The grand opening of the renovated library is scheduled for Aug. 3.