June 11, 2014

Mulvane voters to decide on sales tax increase for new library

Mulvane residents will vote on a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund a new $4.2 million library in a special election June 24.

Mulvane residents will vote on a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund a new $4.2 million library in a special election June 24.

The current library is housed in the Pix Theatre. The theater is a more than 70-year-old building that is about 4,000 square feet in size.

The new library, which will cover more than 14,000 square feet, will provide for more seating and meeting rooms, more shelf room for books, windows for natural light, a computer lab and a multipurpose room for community meetings after regular library hours. The new building would also make the library accessible for people with disabilities.

Mulvane Friends of the Public Library has wanted a new space for a few years, President Danielle Fells said.

“The theater has always been a small fit,” she said. “There’s never been enough room.”

The current building, which needs repairs on a monthly basis, keeps staff crammed into a small work space and doesn’t allow for the quiet space the library board, community groups and students need to meet or study, Library Director Paula Armer said. The library, which serves Mulvane’s more than 6,000 residents and circulates about 5,000 items a month, has no room for new materials.

The wooden furniture, which is more than 50 years old, has to be rearranged to make seating room for the more than 200 kids participating in summer reading programs, she said.

“We’re at a point where if we put a new book on the shelf we almost have to take another one off,” said Armer, a member of the new library’s design committee. “My office is also a storage room, and my desk – and I looked this up – is an antique. This building has served us well, but it’s holding us back.”

The Kansas Department of Revenue estimates the tax increase would generate between $520,000 and $540,000 annually, and the tax would expire in 10 years or sooner if costs associated with the construction of the new library are paid off, City Council member Joe Johnson said.

The city has purchased a lot in the 400 block of North Second Avenue for the library but there has been some debate about the location, he said.

“A few people wanted the library downtown,” said Johnson, a member of the design committee. “They thought it would be a great anchor and it would revitalize downtown, but architects and city staff said there’s no place to build there with the room for needed parking space.”

Downtown locations are located in a flood plain and would require extra construction to rearrange utility lines, he said. The library design committee – comprised of council members, residents, library staff and architects – considered nine sites around Mulvane, but the currently designated spot offered a number of features that made it the most suitable, Johnson said.

“It’s on a main thoroughfare through town, kind of extends the city park and is easy to access,” he said.

Mike Campbell, a lifelong resident of Mulvane, said he wants the library to be built downtown in a lot now occupied by a vacant building to help revitalize the area. The lot would cut construction costs, and the council’s concerns about parking and the flood plain can be addressed, he said.

“I’m concerned that if we don’t build the library there we won’t ever build up downtown,” he said. “Why ignore a spot that is crying for something to be built there? Putting the library elsewhere seems to be a step in the wrong direction.”

The designated location for the library puts it in a mixed residential area, behind Becky and Steve Wright’s backyard and next door to two rental properties they own. The couple is concerned with the effect of moving the library out of downtown and the continued mixing of residential and commercial properties.

“They’re basically building a community center with a library in it,” she said. “They want to put a large, contemporary, trendy building in an area of houses from the ’50s.

“They say they want to revitalize downtown, but they’re taking out something that would excite downtown businesses and encourage investment. I’ve talked to dozens of people who say it’s illogical and doesn’t make sense.”

If the sales tax doesn’t pass, the council will have to scratch plans for a new library completely or consider other funding options like raising property taxes, Johnson said.

“This has been a long process, and we’ve gotten a lot of input from library staff and the community,” he said. “We’re hopeful that it will pass.”

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