After several years of inaction, the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education gave its approval for a new downtown KCK library project to move ahead.
The board gave its approval Aug. 9 to move forward with developing a funding plan to build a new Main Branch facility.
This move does not at this time raise taxes, and various plans would have to come back before the school board for approval, according to school district officials. The location of the new library, while it would probably be downtown, was not specified.
A group of community leaders attended the school board meeting, and library advisory committee members advocated for the project.
The school district has had a 2 mill levy set aside for this project since about 2015, according to officials, now totaling around $20 million. In Kansas City, Kansas, the libraries are under the direction of the Kansas City, Kansas, school board.
Carol Levers, executive director of libraries, asked the board to allow the library advisory committee to address them to move the project forward.
J.D. Rios, a member of the library advisory committee and a retired administrator with the school district, said new, improved libraries mean better services to meet the needs of modern library users in the community, as well as expansion of access to library services, improved bandwidths and possibly additional operating hours. Expansion of library services will be beneficial for young children, for students in kindergarten through grade 16, for senior citizens, small business owners and others, he said.
He also said an increased investment in library materials, including physical and digital books, movies and music, online instruction for all ages, research tools and informational databases could meet the demands of all segments of the community.
Rios said more than just improvements are needed to the man branch library and an analysis done several years ago had recommended a new library. A site needs to be secured and a fundraising plan developed, he said. The library director will work with district administrators to develop a timeline for gathering detailed architectural and engineering plans.
Only until the board of education approves the go-ahead to build the new main branch library will details be forthcoming, he said.
Elnora Jefferson presented several letters of support for a new library from residents of the northeast area. Among the comments were that libraries are important places where the community can gather with space for social interaction, and that they help address digital inequity. A new building could be built in such a way as to diminish heating and cooling costs, and also cut down on the expense of costly repairs of an older building. A library can be a place to discover opportunities.
“If you can dream and see yourself in a different setting, the possibilities are just endless,” Jefferson said.
Jason Norbury, executive director of the Downtown Shareholders of Kansas City, Kansas, said he supported a new library, saying that libraries are a magnet and one of the few places people can just go and be, without having to buy anything. A new library could increase traffic in downtown area, which could help businesses such as the Merc grocery store.
A new library could not only maximize the impact of the Main Branch, but it would be a strong anchor for downtown KCK, Norbury said.
Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, also appeared in support of the new library, saying libraries are important to the fabric of a community and its economic vitality, contributing to a better quality of life.
“We believe the time is now to invest,” Kindle said.
A new library would also increase the potential for urban population growth, and growth in spending and other investments, he said.
While libraries are not necessarily what cause people to move to a town, they are associated with an enhanced quality of life, safety and stability in an area, and an investment could cause a ripple effect of other investments, according to Kindle.
Irene Caudillo, president and CEO of El Centro, also supported a new downtown area library.
“Latinos feel strongly about libraries,” she said. “Our library plays and important role in the growth and education experience.”
Improving the access to information also will improve quality of life, literacy and access, she said.
Jim Schrader, retired architect and library advisory board member, supported a new library that provides a place for books and also a resource center, a center for community life, as well as all types of media.
“Downtown KCK needs and deserves a modern main branch library,” he said.
Pastor Robert Milan Jr. also supported the new library. He said it is vital for students to be given opportunities and scholarly resources. A new library would enhance the community from a physical standpoint and also from economic and spiritual standpoints.
Roslyn Brown, president of the Library Board Foundation, said the library is very important to citizens of Wyandotte County. Libraries maintain history and truth, offer free education resources, are transparent with the services they provide and contribute to increasing the economy.
Several other community officials also attended the meeting.
Randy Lopez, school board president, said the new downtown library had been discussed since 2014. At its most recent discussion, the school board asked Levers to go back and get an updated feasibility study and present findings, Lopez said.
Dr. Val Winn, a school board member, said she would support renovation and expansion, but not tearing down the old building and constructing a new one with estimates of $60 million to $100 million. Lopez said the most recent construction cost estimates were $52 million on the low end and $65 million on the high end. Dr. Winn said any acquisition of property could add costs, and construction costs continue to go up each year.
While she is in support of libraries, Dr. Winn said she had a responsibility to consider the cost. The cost now being considered is not a hard cost, and could possibly exceed $100 million, she believes.
“I’m hesitant to put that tax burden on our people at this time,” Dr. Winn said.
Wanda Brownlee Paige, a board member, said she loves libraries but she wanted to know the cost of the project, and whether any other groups such as the Unified Government, would contribute dollars to the project.
Janey Humphries, a school board member who worked on fundraising for the South Library in the Argentine area, said she was so involved with fundraising for that project that she knows no foundation or charitable group is going to make a commitment of dollars unless the board votes to move forward.
The motion to move forward with the library, for a funding development plan, passed with Dr. Winn and Paige voting no.