Wichita council gives OK for scaled-down library plan

Wichita library officials got the OK today to take a look at a scaled-down library facility at Second at McLean.

City council members approved without comment a study by HBM Architects targeting a smaller facility than the 135,000-square-foot facility originally planned at $38 million. Its purpose, said library board president Tom Engelmann, is “a cautious realignment in our central library program, taking advantage of new technologies other libraries implement in other cities to increase services to citizens while reducing costs of library operations to taxpayers.”

The $150,000 study, including $15,000 in matching funds from the Friends of the Wichita Public Library, will target how that can be done with an eye toward cutting the size of the potential new central library to under $30 million, city officials said earlier this week.

It will include a phased construction plan and a preliminary site analysis, with a consensus on priorities for the initial building phase, Engelmann said.

“We have heard your concerns about the potential expense of a new central library, in terms of construction costs and ongoing funding requirements ... We do understand these are hard economic times and we, like you, want to be wise in spending our monies,” he said “We still believe funds spent on public library services and facilities are dollars that make an important difference in the quality of life of our citizens.”

What any smaller-scale library would include is unclear, awaiting further public input. But Engelmann said the facility would have to address infrastructure, space and accessibility issues while creating family friendly spaces in the libraries, a new technology hub with public computers, centers for lifelong learning, community gathering and collaboration and handicapped accessibility.

Engelmann outlined clear roles for the “library of the future” in the community to the council, including:

•  Printed books will not go away.

•  Libraries will be as much about the experience and opportunity for interactions as about the collections.

•  Technologies will bring new opportunities, but will also place new demands on building infrastructure.

“Our board believes in this project,” Engelmann said. “It will let us find out if the library can operate within an initial facility smaller than in the initial building program, provide schematic details for more information on ongoing operations, and the library foundation has committed to a capital campaign. They do need more information the schematic would provide about a possible building to start that work.”

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