A Link to the Past
The old Nichols Library building creates and maintains a bond between residents and the community. It is a part of our identity, memories, and is a connection point for many generations. Cities that retain and respect their significant buildings maintain an important link to the past.
What defines a significant building? It can be one with historic significance (significant individuals who inhabited the building, who built the structure, or events that took place in the structure) or that are of a significant architectural style. Ultimately, significant historic buildings can strengthen a city’s legacy and add to the enjoyment of a community.
History is our collective memory. The old Nichols Library building resides in many people’s memories. When the word went out that the building was endangered, many people—current residents, former residents, and many devoted to preserving our architectural heritage—spoke out about the importance of saving the building. Many recounted their memories of time spent within the library’s stacks. And, yes, while we all “have our memories,” the physical building is a tangible reminder of what Naperville used to be. And contrary to what some may say, our buildings do make Naperville who we are. They are a testament to people and events that came before us. They build the bridge between old residents and new who, are seeing it for the first time, because it becomes fodder for their conversations. If you tear it down, there is no way that this common bond between residents can exist. This shared memory is vitally important for current residents and for future generations. That is what makes our community so special.
History, of course, is a subject taught in schools. History is often the reason behind field trips that school children take. It’s important to be able to actually see and touch a historic building, rather than just read about it. An extant old Nichols Library building lets children see how buildings were constructed in the past, learn about the man who donated it to the City, and even learn about different architectural styles.
Historic buildings give people a sense of place, of belonging. We form emotional bonds with them. But when these places vanish, people feel a loss. They feel unstable. That’s probably why there are so many groups and organizations dedicated to remembering buildings that have been lost. Naperville has the chance to keep the old Nichols Library front and center, so it can be enjoyed in “real time” by citizens and visitors alike.
Good for the Environment
Historic buildings are also good for the environment. Architect Carl Elefante, FAIA, Director of Sustainable Design at Quinn Evans Architects in Washington, D.C., said: “the greenest building is one that is already built.” That means that by embracing preservation, we don’t waste environmental resources in demolishing the old building and constructing its replacement. By extending the use of the existing building, we can save valuable resources.
Some might argue that today’s buildings are incredibly energy efficient. Yes they are. And lots of old buildings are drafty and energy inefficient. Also true. Nevertheless, new buildings still require raw materials, such as wood, metal, gypsum, paint, glass, etc. in order to build them. Raw materials must be processed, shipped, packaged, delivered, and assembled. That takes resources and energy.
According to The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide by Donovan Rypkema, U.S. builders generate almost 31.5 million tons of construction waste are generated per year. That’s almost 24% of the total municipal solid waste stream. Solid waste disposal is a concern of all communities, large and small. And where construction and demolition debris are concerned, there are added concerns about hazardous waste, such as lead paint and asbestos. Special waste such as that must go to a special landfill.
The old Nichols Library building required a lot of resources and energy to assemble it 119 years ago. But the materials are in situ—no energy expenditure is needed. If we tear it down, hundreds of tons of debris will end up in a landfill. And we throw away the energy embodied in its brick and limestone walls.
Just because something is new does not mean it’s better. Older buildings were made of higher quality materials and the construction methods were generally better. The old Nichols Library was built by local craftsmen and, in the case of the limestone, of locally harvested materials. Standardized, machined components in new buildings pale in comparison to the carved stone elements one sees on 19th and early 20th-century building facades, which are the work of a craftsman. For the old Nichols Library, the construction contract was awarded to Naperville resident Alvin Enck, and he helped select the local limestone and managed the local help. The superintendent was Napervillian C.L. Schwartz. All were craftsmen, as evidenced in the beautiful building they built.
Also from The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader's Guide and the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Code of Practice, the lifespan of newer buildings is 30-40 years (think of the condition of the 10-year-old Carillon in Naperville). The old Nichols Library has stood by solidly on South Washington Street for more than 100 years. Buildings with load-bearing walls, were made to last.
The following discussion on the condition of the windows the Old Nichols Library building corroborates that high-quality materials were used when the building was constructed. In June 2017, the Association for Preservation Technology, Western Great Lakes Chapter in their condition assessment of the building commented:
Encourages Civic Pride
The beautiful old Nichols Library building instills a sense of community pride in the accomplishments of people from the City’s past. It was a building Naperville residents could proudly point to – it was one of the earliest public libraries in DuPage County and its benefactor, James L. Nichols, was someone residents admired.
Saving and restoring the historic old Nichols Library building can allow current generations of Napervillians to feel that same sense of civic pride—that such an important building from the past will be there for the enjoyment of many generations to come.
Many buildings—particularly public buildings, such as libraries—foster a sense of community because they are shared places. Public buildings are an expression of civic pride and define a city. Community building takes time, but when we have access to old buildings from our community’s past, it helps solidify our sense of community.
Strengthens the City's Economy
A report released by PlaceEconomics, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate and economic development firm, concluded that historic preservation is good for the economy. Different U.S. studies had remarkably consistent results: Historic preservation is good for the local economy. The positive impact of historic preservation on the economy fall into 6 broad areas: [From: Measuring the Economics of Preservation: Recent Findings Prepared for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation by PlaceEconomics, June, 2011; http://www.preserveamerica.gov/docs/final-popular-report6-7-11.pdf
- Property values
- Heritage tourism
- Environmental impact
- Social impact
- Downtown revitalization
PlaceEconomics also found that local historic districts added value to historic homes and to properties nearby. In Philadelphia, it represented a sales price premium of 131 percent; in nine Texas cities, increased property values ranged from 5 to 20 percent. [From: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700135814/Saving-old-buildings-creates-more-jobs-than-new-construction-saves-energy-says-PlaceEconomics-Don.html
Naperville already has a designated Historic District. We need to take advantage of the gold mine in our midst. It is important, therefore, that elected officials, property owner, developers, and investors understand the economic contributions of historic preservation.