Planned Central Library could grow in size, cost

Wichita's future Central Library could be bigger, better, easier to use, more flexible and — because of the aforementioned attributes — more expensive than initially thought.

The estimated price tag for the library plan leaders will present to City Council members today sits at $48,385,250.

The library the city would build on land at the southwest corner of Second Street and McLean would be 75 percent larger than the 43-year-old building at 223 S. Main.

Parking would be dedicated almost entirely to the library, eliminating the headache users find now when events at Century II use most of the nearby spaces.

The new library would have 65 more computers, far more meeting space and a cafe.

The library board, council members and other officials had initially planned to build a $30 million facility that's about 29 percent bigger. But as focus groups have drilled down into more details and examined more library trends, the plan has grown.

The library board has endorsed only the $48 million plan in hopes of finding more money to put up a larger and more flexible building that wouldn't need costly additions in coming decades, said Library Director Cynthia Berner Harris.

"Their concern is making sure what we do is not to underconfigure a new library," she said. "They felt that would be as much an error as overbuilding or being too extravagant."

During an informal workshop today, council members also will hear about a $42.6 million plan based on a 2007 master plan that includes less space for reference materials and cataloging.

A third variation for $30 million fits what the city currently has budgeted. It includes less space for virtually everything.

Though more people now use smartphones, digital reading devices and the Internet for information, more people are also using the library, Berner Harris said.

Last year, 1.3 million people visited Wichita libraries. Circulation has climbed steadily.

"We always have waiting lists for our public computers," Berner Harris said. "Those are not just people who come in to play games. They are taking training classes, they're filing for unemployment, they're starting small businesses."

If council members show support for one of the plans, the city will seek proposals from architects to design the new building.

Design would take about a year, and then the city would take bids for construction, which is expected to take about two years.

It's unclear what would happen to the existing Central Library building. That decision rests with the council.

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