Advocates for a new central library in downtown Wichita hope to raise $8 million – well above the $2.5 million city leaders requested – to build a bigger, better library.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, officials with the Wichita Public Library Foundation announced that they are more than halfway to their new fundraising goal, having secured $4.4 million, including a $3 million gift from the Dwane & Velma Wallace Foundation.
“We have come out of the quiet phase and are going public with the capital campaign,” said Don Barry, chairman of the library foundation.
“If you look at what’s happening in Wichita, we’re on the cusp of a renaissance,” he said. “City pride’s coming back. Money is coming in from private development.
“The energy is just extraordinary … and this (library) is a signature project.”
The library is planned for Second Street and McLean Boulevard on the west bank of the Arkansas River. Included in the gifts so far is a $250,000 donation from the Friends of the Wichita Public Library, which operates a used-book store in the central library.
“During these months of our campaign, the early stages, it has really been wonderful to share the vision of the new, modern library with our donors and see their enthusiasm and willingness to invest in our community,” Barry said.
City leaders voted in January to move ahead with the design phase, agreeing to pay about $27.5 million for the library if the foundation would provide another $2.5 million. The design is expected to be completed by November.
The Wallace Foundation donation will allow architects to add about 10,000 square feet to the library footprint, Barry said, expanding a proposed children’s area on the main floor and space for genealogy research and special collections upstairs.
About $2.5 million of the library foundation’s money will help finance technology, he said.
The rest of the $8 million raised would provide a “margin of excellence,” Barry said – a financial cushion over and above the city-financed portion that could pay for additional amenities.
“Sometimes it’s not until you get deep into a project that you realize, ‘Oh, gee, wouldn’t it be great if ?’ ”
Expanding the new library’s space from 95,000 to 103,000 square feet or more would “allow for some wonderful uses of that space,” said Thomas Borrego, director of the capital campaign.
“One of the objectives is to improve early literacy, so by expanding that footprint, you have more opportunities for gathering, different ways to learn,” he said. “The children are going to really win with this extra space.”
A second-floor research pavilion would have expanded space for genealogy collections, he said, including space for patrons to record oral histories.
When Borrego talks to people about the proposed new library, “There’s an enthusiasm there, a lot of wide eyes and ‘wow’ kind of moments,” he said. “There’s a sense of excitement.”
Construction could start as early as spring and could take about two years, library officials said. Before that, the City Council would have to take another vote to approve letting bids.
Council member James Clendenin, who voted to approve the measure earlier this year, said he was unsure about a new library at first but now thinks a modern library would be a regional draw.
“What we’re envisioning and what we’re talking about, cities internationally that have done stuff like this have seen their libraries become economic centers, a lot of development around those areas,” Clendenin said.
“I think for any increased costs there might be, the public is going to see a return in benefit that they’re not getting now.”
The current central library at 223 S. Main was built in 1967. Library officials initially had looked at remodeling it but estimated that would cost nearly $22 million.
“The creation of this public-private partnership means that citizens and our government – we’re all in this together,” Barry said Wednesday. “It’s a collaboration to make a modern library for Wichita a reality.”