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Expandability key component to new central library plans

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, April 23, 2013, at 3:06 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at 11:57 a.m.

Wichita library officials rolled out a scaled-back plan for a new central library at Second and McLean on Tuesday, with plans to start seeking design proposals for the $29 million facility next month.

Library director Cynthia Berner Harris and architect Dan Meehan of HBM Architects outlined plans for a 102,000-square-foot three-level building to house the city’s book collection and the latest in information technology during a workshop with the Wichita City Council.

The project, earmarked for 2014-15 in the city’s 10-year capital improvement plan, will go out for design bids next month if the council approves. The scaled-down building plan was approved last week by the library’s board of directors.

The building’s preliminary floor plan is “driven by technology needs,” the architect said. “Some people think e-books and downloadable information will shrink the size of libraries in the future. Some think that as information evolves, it creates the need for more space.

“So we’re starting smaller, but we have a real structured way to expand if the latter comes true.”

The centerpiece of the plan is the expandability of the first construction phase. Meehan laid out a four-stage expansion plan — all “without closing off parts of the library and having to move things around,” he said — that could grow the facility to 145,000 square feet if needed.

The current 89,500-square-foot prefabricated concrete library at 223 S. Main, built in 1967, has been riddled with issues, including leaks, bedbugs, lack of space for the library collection and some resulting deterioration of that collection. It also lacks the infrastructure for the growing emphasis on technology, such as data lines for computer terminals.

The new library will be built with raised access floors, under which data lines, power lines and HVAC will be placed to allow portability, again if the library is ever reconfigured.

“It’s a kind of targeted expansion,” Meehan said. “If the child department takes off, we can expand that without spending a lot of money on the library shuffling things around.”

The building has been designed with “flexible space,” including an open floor on the upper level so “the library can be reconfigured over time without taking out walls,” Meehan said. “It’s very, very flexible.”

Also included are improved sight lines at key indoor security points and outdoor spaces to cut down on loitering.

Planning for the new central library began in 2010 and included an evaluation of remodeling costs at the current library. Council members approved a tentative plan to test a phased construction project last summer.

The new library’s planning process remains open; residents can provide their views through Activate-Wichita.com, an online portal the city introduced earlier this month to collect citizen input on major local projects.

The new library was originally set for 2013-14 in the city’s capital improvements plan, but was delayed a year last summer by the council as projects — and the bonding to build them — threatened to raise the city’s debt load above established limits..

In February 2012, city officials said the site at Second and McLean could include oil deposits, with exploration possible without disrupting the library construction project. The property was acquired by the city from Dave Wells of Key Construction.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or bwilson@wichitaeagle.com.

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