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Wichita City Council has reservations about library

WICHITA — Wichita City Council members gave a soft endorsement to build a $42 million new central library — the second costliest of three options they reviewed this morning.

But council members said they still have questions about how much it would cost to operate a library that is 53 percent larger than the existing one and whether the city could raise enough private funds through naming rights and donations to go ahead with a $48 million plan that would be 74 percent bigger than the existing central library.

"I'm willing to sell naming rights on doorknobs," said Susan Estes, chairwoman of the library board.

The three library options will be presented to the city's district advisory boards in coming weeks, then go back to the library board before returning to the city council for a vote.

Council members struggled with the $42 million and $48 million options because they're far beyond the $30 million the city had budgeted in its long-term projects fund. But they said they want a library to last 50 to 75 years and don't want to shortchange residents on a service that is valuable to almost all demographics.

"If you're not going to do it right, don't do it," said city council member Sue Schlapp. But City Manager Robert Layton said the city would probably have to defer other long-term projects or raise significant private money to make the more expensive options work.

The city expects to draw some revenue from renting out meeting spaces, including an auditorium with inclined seating. All three options for the library would include a cafe.

But Layton cautioned that even with a lease to a private business, cafes in public libraries often lose money because they don't catch the commuters who often sustain cafes. The existing library is 43 years old and lacks adequate parking and display space for its growing collection.

The new library would be built on land the city recently bought at the southwest corner of Second Street and McLean. The city is still considering someday building a new ampitheater across McLean on the west bank of the Arkansas River, but that would not be included in the library budget.

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