In 1996, when Sears announced its plans to move to the mall in Forsyth, the library investigated the Sears building as a potential new site for the main library. Located on North Franklin Street, across from Central Park, the area was highly visible, accessible, and offered ample on-site parking. On May 27, 1997, the library purchased the property for $2.4 million. On October 30, 1997, a contract was signed with Phillips Swager Associates of Naperville, Illinois to provide architectural services for the renovation of the Sears building into the new main library facility.
Funding for this $8.2 million project came from a variety of sources. The Decatur City Council on February 9, 1998, approved the authorization of $5.2 million in bonds for the project which was to be paid back from sales tax revenue. The library obtained a $250,000 Live and Learn Construction grant from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office. During 1997 and 1998, the Decatur Public Library Foundation conducted a successful $1.6 million capital fund drive. The remaining funds came from funds that the library had set aside for the project.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on October 1, 1998, to mark the beginning of the project. Mid-States General and Mechanical Contracting Corporation of Decatur was the general contractor. The project included gutting the interior of the main Sears building and removing all asbestos from the facility. The 104,000 square feet on two levels of the building were renovated for library use. This left 35,000 square feet of the upper level available for the library to lease to prospective tenants.
On September 7, 1999, the library opened its new state-of-the-art facility at 130 North Franklin Street. Designed with spacious interiors and a contemporary dècor, the library now includes a 180-seat auditorium, as well as a 25-seat conference room, both of which are available for community use.
The library’s nearly 340,000 items, including more than 250,000 books and 33,500 audiovisual items, are arranged for maximum user benefit. Indirect lighting provides an even lighting source throughout the lower level. The open, entry level, public service area is occupied by Adult and Young Adult Services, and a large local history room. The entire adult collection is located throughout the entry level. This level offers convenient, comfortable seating for 250 users. Public access Internet computers, as well as the Check Out Desk, are also located on the entry level.
Taking the inviting central staircase, under an artificial sky-light, up to the 16,000 square foot children’s area, users are greeting by a large wall mural. The children’s area offers an extensive collection of books and audiovisual materials, plus seating for over 100 individuals. A children’s auditorium, enclosed toddler play area, and puppet theatre complement the bright and colorful area overlooking Central Park. The 94 feet of gallery space on the upper level provide an excellent location for art and cultural displays in a variety of formats. In addition, the library’s computer lab is located on this floor near the administration offices. The library offers a wide variety of free computer classes to the public.