Library Gets $643,000 Construction Grant

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More than four years after purchasing the downtown building that used to house a bank, members of the Hillsboro Area Public Library District learned on Friday, Oct. 2, that a project to turn the space into a modern library is in the immediate future.

Library trustees learned on Friday that the Illinois Secretary of State–whose job description also makes him the state librarian–has awarded the district a $643,000 public library construction grant.

“My office is fortunate to have the opportunity to assist your library with this important infrastructure improvement project,” Secretary of State Jesse White said in a letter to Hillsboro Library Director Shelley Kolb.

“We’re very excited,” Hillsboro Area Public Library District board President Dr. Barb Mulch said Friday.  “Hillsboro is definitely on the right track, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Mulch said the main floor of the former bank building across from the newspaper office in downtown Hillsboro has already been cleaned out and is ready for construction.  Similar work on the basement floor will begin within the next 10 days.

While that is occurring, Farnsworth Group, the architectural firm the library board has tasked with designing their new space, will be working on the details for the rehabilitation.  After that?

“Then we get started,” Mulch said.  “We’re hoping the project will be complete in about a year, and then the library will be able to serve a lot more people with a very accessible building.”

Hillsboro is receiving the grant thanks in part to a push from State Senator Andy Manar, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations II Committee, during last spring’s budget negotiations. 

“The value a quality public library brings to rural communities cannot be overstated. Growing up and living in a small town, I know how important this is. This renovation project in the newly acquired facility will provide Hillsboro and the surrounding area with a modern library space for community members to take advantage of,” Manar said. “I’m thankful for the continued efforts of the Hillsboro public library board and Secretary of State Jesse White for their commitment to the Hillsboro community.”

Manar first met with local leaders in July 2019 to tour both the existing library facility, the new facility that requires renovation, and discuss how the state can assist in local efforts. 

The library’s current School Street home opened nearly 115 years ago to the day–on Oct. 10, 1905, after a $10,000 grant from library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, but that wasn’t the library’s only home.

The Hillsboro Area Public Library District can trace it’s roots back to the establishment of the Hillsboro Lyceum and Library Association in September 1837 when early community leaders financed the construction of a one-story building on the southeast corner of Main and School Street.  Efforts to establish a free public library began in February 1895 when the Ladies Reading Circle formed the Hillsboro Reading Room and Library Association.  The Public Library and Reading Room opened on the second floor of the historic Corner Block Building in downtown Hillsboro on Nov. 14, 1895, and remained there until the present Carnegie building opened ten years later.

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