Ald. Danny Solis (25th) sang the political praises of Mayor Rahm Emanuel Tuesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new $15 million Chinatown library.
Thanks to the mayor, Solis said the new, 16,000-square-foot library at 2100 S. Wentworth that will replace the bustling branch now serving 21,000 monthly patrons a few blocks away will add “another jewel to the crown jewel that Chinatown is becoming.”
The powerful chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee noted that he first approached Emanuel about building a new Chinatown library four years ago, when he was still a candidate for mayor.
“The mayor has delivered tremendously. This is just one piece. A little north of here is a boathouse that I didn’t ask for. He just pushed it on me and we got a boathouse,” Solis said.
“But I did ask him for a fieldhouse. And now, we’ve got a beautiful fieldhouse. And now, we’ve got this tremendous library that’s going to be the talk of the town, the talk of the country. And in a few more months — maybe a couple of years — we’re gonna straighten out Wentworth so that, number one, it becomes safe, but number two, it becomes the connector between old Chinatown and new Chinatown. And there will be so much that will be given to the Chinese community and to the rest of the city.”
Solis went on to say how proud he is to represent Chinatown in the City Council. With all of the public improvements, it will someday become “the best Chinese community in the whole country,” the alderman said.
“This is a community that is an example for the rest of the city in terms of the way it values education, it values family and, I’ll say this, the way it’s supported me for now five elections,” said Solis, who was forced into a run-off in 2011.
Library Commissioner Brian Bannon said the sleek new library was designed by the architectural firm of Skidmore Owings and Merrill to be a “gateway to Chinatown linking the old with the new.” The Emanuel-chaired Public Building Commission used a “first-ever design/build process” for a branch library and asked Skidmore to “design a building that reflects the history and culture” of Chinatown while creating a state-of-the-art library space for residents.
The $15 million project will be bankrolled by the 24th/Michigan tax-increment-financing (TIF) district. It’s expected to open in May, 2015.
After recognizing the principals of three local schools attending Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, Emanuel noted that every neighborhood library now has a teacher helping kids with homework after school to make certain that, “When a child goes to a library, their education continues.”
Referring to the principals, the mayor said, “Their presence here symbolizes a strategy we’re trying to pursue, which is to make sure that it’s not libraries are over here and our schools are over here. They’re all serving a single, unified mission, which is the education of our children and the support of our families and our neighborhoods.”
The mayor noted that just last week, he and Library Commissioner Brian Bannon were at the White House to receive an award from First Lady Michelle Obama for the Chicago library system’s investment in technology and for its decision to “rethink what a neighborhood library can be” in the 21st Century.
“Where our libraries used to be a place where you’d get a card catalogue and go look up a book, today it’s not about just researching the past. Because of our investment in technology and turning our libraries into 24/7 services for our families and our children, it is now the currency of shaping and thinking about the future — not just researching the past,” the mayor said.
“The investments we’re making are taking our neighborhood libraries into a service where it’s not just the beauty of the architecture — and there’s no doubt this will be beautiful. It’s what’s going on inside that allows you to explore the world outside in a way that we never, ever when we were growing up imagined.”