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Wichita school board cites security as factor in closing library branch at Colvin

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, at 9:08 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, at 9:08 p.m.

The Planeview Community Library, a small branch inside Colvin Elementary School that was saved from the brink of closure a decade ago, will close to the public on Nov. 15.

The Wichita school board voted 6-0 Monday to terminate the district’s agreement with the city to operate and staff the library, citing security concerns and declining usage.

“At the time of its inception, it served a real need. But we’ve got different issues with our buildings today,” said superintendent John Allison. “The direction we need to go is pretty clear-cut.”

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.

District security officials say the public library poses a security risk because patrons can’t be adequately monitored once they pass through a front-office checkpoint. Colvin, one of the district’s largest elementary schools, features a “pod” design, with several hallways and classrooms branching out from the library.

“So much has happened from a security standpoint, that has to be the No. 1 motivator,” said board member Betty Arnold.

“For me, the priority is student safety, and that’s what we are commissioned to be concerned with,” she said. “I appreciate everything else, but at the end of the day, we have to be sure that our students are safe.”

Over the past year, prompted in part by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 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.

The public library branch 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, including holiday breaks, in-service days and for six weeks during the summer.

According to the termination agreement approved Monday, signs pointing Planeview residents to the community library inside Colvin will be removed and the library closed by Nov. 15. District and city staff members will have until May 30 to reconcile inventory and redistribute books.

Unlike a decade ago, the proposed closure generated little interest or discussion. No one from the public addressed the school board about the topic. City library officials said they notified patrons about the proposed closure at the Planeview branch and at a nearby neighborhood city hall, but so far no one has responded with questions or concerns.

The library closure was on the school board’s consent agenda, a portion of the meeting reserved for routine business without discussion, but board member Barbara Fuller removed it to request additional information.

“The good news is we’re going to have those books there for the kids,” Fuller said. “I just hope we have some good news for the adults” in the Planeview neighborhood.

The Planeview library is the only branch east of I-135 and south of Kellogg and the only convenient source of books for one of Wichita’s poorest and most diverse neighborhoods. In 2012, only 4,315 items were checked out from the public portion of the library, compared to more than 40,000 checkouts at the system’s next-lowest-circulation branch.

“It saddens me that there’s been such small numbers” of patrons, board member Lynn Rogers said Monday. “I think we’ve done everything we can for it. I do hope it motivates the city and the library board to do something for the library needs in that community.

“In one sense, this has kept them from dealing with it, because we’ve put a Band-Aid on it,” Rogers said. “Maybe it’s time that Band-Aid gets ripped off.”

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

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