Interim library now open downtown Rockford

By Jim Hagerty

DOWNTOWN – The first step in what could be a five-year rebuilding project has been completed, as the temporary downtown library is now open at 214 N. Church St.

Hours for the Hart Interim Library are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday; and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Standard services are available on the spacious ground floor, and the children’s wing and administrative offices are upstairs. Other services are  temporarily offered at the Nordlof Center and other library property.

Albert E. Hart constructed the building in 1929 for Montgomery Ward. It was later bought by the county and turned into a satellite jail. Most recently, it was the Winnebago County Resource Intervention Center for offenders making their way through the probation system.

While Hart is not as spacious as the 215 N. Wyman St., officials say it will continue to properly serve the public. There will be some drawbacks to deal with until the new library is finished, however. For example, because there is not enough room in Hart’s public area for every book in the old library, some will be stored in the basement. But because of automation, material not on the floor can be reserved electronically and easily retrieved by staff. There’s also a local history wing, young adults section, meeting rooms and plenty of space to read onsite.

“We have a lot of things happening,” Rockford Public Library Executive Director Lynn Stainbrook said. “We are trying to make the library not just a repository of books, DVDs and music, but a true place of learning.”

And that effort will be vital in designing the permanent building on Wyman Street as a 21st-century library that Stainbrook said will evolve often. Today, libraries are high-tech facilities with everything from recording studios to maker labs to temporary space for on-the-go professionals. Some even have cafes, like Kate’s Pie Shop inside RPL’s East Branch at 6685 E. State St.

“A 21st-century library has to be very flexible,” Stainbrook said. “Things change very rapidly, about every 40 days.”

The major downtown redevelopment is made possible by ComEd, which, in 1966, acquired Rockford Gas Light and Coke, a gas plant that operated there from 1856 to 1898. The gas manufacturing process created coal tar, which was placed in large vats and buried on the property. The containers are under the library’s foundation and must be removed and the site environmentally remediated before construction can begin on a new building.

ComEd is committed to spend $33 million on the project.

After Saturday’s “Bon Voyage to 215” farewell  party, the building will be prepped for demolition, a process that will take about two years.

The new library is expected to span approximately 70,000 square feet. When it opens, the Hart building will be sold. R.

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