The Wichita City Council chambers erupted in applause Tuesday after the council voted 5-2 to build a $33 million-plus central library.
“Good things really do come to those who wait,” council member Janet Miller told library supporters – members of the library board and library foundation – who filled the chambers.
Initial plans for the library – or advanced learning center – were approved about 10 years ago. It will be built on the southwest corner of Second and McLean.
Several council members said the new library will be a keystone – like the new airport and improvements to downtown – for improving quality of life in Wichita.
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“Today we have the opportunity to create ... an advanced learning library with technology, innovation, collaboration, public-private partnerships, education and, yes, a place for books,” said council member Bryan Frye.
“Looking back in our history, we’ve had moments that have been game changers for this community. From the creation of the Big Ditch to the build out of Century II and, yes, the recent construction for Eisenhower National Airport. I believe Wichita’s advanced learning library is our next magic moment,” he said.
After the vote, supporters flocked outside the chambers, giving congratulations.
“This makes a statement about our community, that we are a modern community, that we are moving forward. It’s not like we’re just all here (saying) ‘Last one to leave Wichita, turn out the light,’ ” said Kellie Hogan, president of the Wichita Public Library Board.
Groundbreaking could be as early as this summer, said Don Barry, chairman of the Wichita Public Library Foundation board of directors. Construction will take 18 to 24 months, so it could be completed in 2018.
The council will have to vote again in a few months to approve the contractor before construction begins.
The city will finance the new library with more $36.69 million in bonds. Part of that will be recouped through fundraising by the Wichita Public Library Foundation, which has raised $5.5 million of an $8 million campaign so far.
The bond amount also includes the $3.69 million the city used to buy the land in 2008.
The new library would have more than $500,000 in additional operating expenses, including $465,780 for 11 new positions.
Council members Jeff Blubaugh and Pete Meitzner voted against the new library.
The two have several concerns, including whether the library is necessary, whether the location is right, plans for the library system as a whole and what would happen with the existing building.
“Some of the other projects we’ve talked about have been user-fee paid: Water systems are paid by the water bill, the airport is paid by user fees. This comes directly out of our capital budget and directly out of our operating budget,” Meitzner said.
“I would like to support letting the citizens decide this.”
He asked the council to vote instead on allowing the issue to go before the public as a ballot question.
He and Blubaugh voted to place the question on the ballot. But the rest of the council voted against that.
It’s unclear what the city will do with the current central library building at 223 S. Main. It was built in 1967 and has several Americans With Disabilities Act compliance issues.
If a new library building is constructed, the old building could be used as an extension for spill-over conventions, banquets and other events from Century II, city officials said.
City Manager Robert Layton told the council on Tuesday that plans for the current building should be “mothballed” until decisions about Century II are made later this year.
“The old library served us well,” said Hogan, the library board president. “With the old library, we could say, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ It served us well, it’s an iconic building, it’s a beautiful building, but it’s not the building that we need to have for advanced learning.”