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Plan would close Planeview library inside Colvin Elementary School

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, at 10:10 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, at 10:10 p.m.

Public input session

Wichita City Council member James Clendenin and developer Max Cole will host a breakfast at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Wichita Mall, 4031 E. Harry, to share preliminary plans for a proposed library and training center at the site. The meeting is free and open to the public.

The Planeview Community Library, a small library branch inside Colvin Elementary School, will close to the public this month, according to a plan being considered by the Wichita school board.

District officials say the library branch poses a security risk to the school because patrons can’t be adequately monitored once they pass through a front-office checkpoint. City officials said the library isn’t used heavily and agreed to close it.

“From my point of view, when you’re looking at convenience versus safety, safety always wins out,” said Terri Moses, director of security for Wichita schools.

“I know it was convenient for a handful of people to have that library down there,” she said. “But when we looked at the access-control issues and the amount of use … both the city and the school agreed that it’s time to terminate that partnership.”

The public portion of the Planeview library – the only branch east of I-135 and south of Kellogg and the only convenient source of books for one of Wichita’s poorest neighborhoods – closed abruptly a decade ago as a budget-cutting measure. But public pressure, much of it from Colvin students and their families, caused the city to reconsider.

Since October 2003, the branch has operated under a joint agreement between the school district and the city. District employees staff both the school’s library and the public branch, which share space in the middle of the school.

Alvin Rose, a Planeview resident and former secretary of the neighborhood improvement group Planeview United, said Friday that he wasn’t aware of the impending closure. The plan was approved without discussion by the Wichita City Council on Oct. 22 and will be considered by school board members Monday.

The item is on the board’s consent agenda, a portion of the meeting reserved for routine business.

“That particular library is something the community has struggled to have in existence for a number of years,” said Rose, who helped spearhead the effort to save the library in 2003.

That year, a read-a-thon by Colvin students raised more than $15,000 for books. City library officials pledged to refocus efforts to serve the Planeview neighborhood, near Pawnee and Hillside, stocking more materials in Spanish and Vietnamese and expanding the library’s materials for teaching English to adults.

The library is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during the school year. It is closed whenever school is not in session, however, including holiday breaks, in-service days and for six weeks during the summer.

“This is a pedestrian community. It’s not like, ‘Jump in the car and we’ll go to the library,’” Rose said. “I think it is obscene for anyone to imply that that library is not used and needed.”

Cynthia Berner Harris, director of libraries for the Wichita Public Library, said numbers tell the story:

In 2012, only 4,315 items were checked out from the public portion of the Planeview library, she said. The city’s next-lowest-circulation branch, the Maya Angelou Northeast branch near 21st and Hillside, logged more than 40,000 checkouts.

From May through September this year, Berner Harris said, 54 people from outside the school visited the Planeview Community Library. Of those, only five visited more than once.

“We really don’t want anybody to be left out from this,” she said. “So far we really don’t think this is a problem. Or if it is, it’s really just going to be a small handful of people.”

According to a termination agreement school board members will consider Monday, the Planeview Community Library would close Nov. 15. District and city staff would have until May 30 to reconcile inventory and redistribute books.

Berner Harris said the city has about 5,000 items in the Planeview library. It plans to pack up about 2,000 of them and return them to the library’s main collection to redistribute to other city library branches. The rest – mostly picture books, fiction and non-fiction volumes appropriate for children from preschool through fifth grade – will be “gifted” to Colvin and remain part of the school’s collection, she said.

Berner Harris said officials have been notifying library patrons of the proposed closure at the Colvin school office and at the Planeview Neighborhood City Hall.

“We put information out through the library and through the school and encouraged anybody who had been using that library to contact us so we could talk to them about library service,” she said. “We have not received a single contact.”

Patrons who “absolutely don’t have the ability” to get to another branch should talk with library officials, Berner Harris said. “We are prepared to do a modified delivery program in the short term for them,” arranging deliveries of books and other materials to the neighborhood city hall office.

“We are not hearing from a lot of people who are telling us they are going to be left without library service,” she said. “So I think that’s a good thing at this point.”

Berner Harris said she understands the district’s concerns about security at the school.

“I think all of us look at security differently than we did at the time that school was built and the branch was put in there,” she said. “If we were starting over today and working on a shared-use library, we would look at the architecture of that building and probably decide … it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Neither she nor Moses, the district security chief, could recall any security incidents at the library.

Over the past year, prompted in part by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, the Wichita district has been evaluating school security and crisis plans. In May, the school board approved a $3 million security upgrade that includes new cameras and other surveillance equipment, controlled-access doors, buzz-in entrances and more.

“We’re just being proactive and looking at the situation,” Moses said of the library inside Colvin Elementary. “And (we) decided that it’s a good time to dissolve the partnership.”

Barbara Fuller, the school board member who represents Colvin Elementary and the Planeview neighborhood, said she was aware of preliminary discussions about closing the library branch. But, “I don’t have all the facts to understand why we want to do it at this time,” she said.

“I don’t know the entire rationale at this point,” Fuller said Friday. “Safety may be one (factor). Expense may be one. The impact on the library with the large enrollment (at Colvin). Those are three things that could be a conversation piece.

“But I’m not going to vote on something blind that affects that community, that huge area.”

Wichita City Council member James Clendenin, whose district includes Planeview, said the library branch inside Colvin Elementary is “just indicative of the underserved nature of southeast Wichita.”

Efforts to keep the struggling branch alive are admirable. “But there’s a hole there – a huge hole – and Colvin wasn’t even coming close” to filling it, Clendenin said. “It’s a Band-Aid on something that needs 20 stitches. It wasn’t doing the job.”

The council member has been working with local developer Max Cole to establish a 45,000-square-foot high-tech library and training center at the Wichita Mall, 4031 E. Harry. Clendenin and Cole will host a public engagement session at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the mall to gauge public opinion on the project.

“I think it’s unfortunate that we’re closing it (the Planeview library) without the library system having a clear plan for southeast Wichita,” Clendenin said. “I’ve tried to step up myself and work with a private developer to see if we can provide something … at minimal cost to the city.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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