BACK OF THE YARDS — The fight for a new Back of the Yards public library branch continues as some neighbors are pushing back on a proposal to incorporate the library into a public housing project.
The development at 4630 S. Ashland Ave. is slated to bring affordable housing, a federally qualified health care center, a performing arts center, headquarters for the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council and spaces for nonprofits Chicago Commons and Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation to the long-closed Aronson furniture store.
The neighborhood council and Park Row Development are spearheading the project.
During a meeting Thursday, project leaders and local officials updated the community on their plans and pitched an idea to put a public library in the development.
The neighborhood’s library has been inside Back of the Yards College Prep Academy, 2111 W. 47th St., since the school opened in 2013. It was touted as a major upgrade, since the previous public library had been inside a strip mall on Damen Avenue.
But residents have questioned for years why their neighborhood doesn’t have its own freestanding, quality public library branch. Parents have said sharing the library with the high school makes access difficult — especially during the day during the school year — and it doesn’t meet the needs of the community.
Southwest Side parents and local leaders have advocated for a separate library building for years. In 2020, state Rep. Theresa Mah secured $15 million in state funding for capital projects to fund the library, but officials with the project said they haven’t been able to find the right location.
Several residents at the meeting spoke against having the library inside the Aronson development, citing concerns about once again putting the library in a “shared” space. Most who rejected the library suggestion said they were in support of the project itself, but they want an independent location for the public library branch.
Jasmin Pizano, who’s part Luchando por la Biblioteca, said they’ve worked for years to secure the money for the library and they want an independent space.
“This is not the only option for a library,” she said. “It’s important that we communicate that so we can amplify other options.”
Back of the Yards resident Linda Coronado said she doesn’t like the idea of the library being connected to the development for logistical and safety concerns
“We are already sharing space, and it’s not a helpful situation,” she said. “If we continue to share space, who’s to say that in 10 years we’re not going to be asked to leave again?”
Coronado also said she had difficulty accessing the Little Italy public library, which is connected to public housing, early last month after there was a shooting inside the residences above.
The shooting left a police officer critically wounded. The block was closed for several hours as officers investigated.
Craig Chico, Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council president and CEO, said he disagreed that housing the library within the development would be a safety concern. Violence is “an unfortunate reality” the neighborhood faces, but putting the library and housing in the same development won’t reduce patrons’ safety, he said.
Putting the library within the Aronson project would be the fastest and most economical way to get the neighborhood a new library, Chico said. Organizers won’t need additional funds if the library is included in the development, while a standalone library would require more financing, he said.
“Our students shouldn’t have to wait any longer,” he said.
But Luchando por la Biblioteca members said they are willing and ready find the rest of the funds for an independent library.
“We want the best for our kids,” said Consuelo Martinez, a parent with the group. “This project sounds very beautiful … but why can’t we find another space for a beautiful library?”
Patrick Molloy, director of government and public affairs with the library, previously said the library would ideally be 16,000 square feet, have parking, be near public transit and not disrupt existing businesses.
Molloy said Thursday the Aronson development is just one suggestion for the library location, but it would fulfill some requirements, such as size and central location.
More community workshops and surveys will be conducted before deciding on a final decision on the library’s location, officials said. They hope to have a site picked by October.
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