Wichita may seek help to pay for library

The city is willing to commit $12.6 million more than planned on a new Central Library at the southwest corner of Second and McLean.

But City Hall would probably look to wealthy families, corporations and fundraisers to help cover the increase.

That was the crux of what City Council members said as they examined three options for the new library that officials have envisioned for years.

That could mean that the city sells naming rights to meeting rooms, the children's section, computer labs or other features of the proposed building.

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

Library experts say sponsorships and fund drives are commonly used and successful.

Whether that would be enough to cover the $12.6 million difference between the $30 million currently budgeted and the $42.6 million proposal remains to be seen.

And even that would be short of the $48 million plan the city's library board has endorsed.

The price has risen primarily because the size and versatility of the library envisioned has expanded and some inflationary factors weren't calculated into the initial budget.

If private funds don't make up the difference, the city would either have to scale back plans, make it a phased project or defer other long-term plans.

Officials plan to show three library options to district advisory boards in coming weeks. Then the library board will revisit the issue before the City Council ultimately votes on a plan that could lead to a new library in 2013 or 2014.

The most ambitious plan would make the new Central Library 74 percent larger than the current spot, the second is 53 percent bigger, and the cheapest option represents a 29 percent growth.

Council members expressed frustration at the rising costs. 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.

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.

Camila Alire, president of the American Library Association, commended Wichita for using surveys, focus groups and other public input to steer the discussion of what the library should include. She said coffee shops are consistently a top request nationwide.

"The fact of the matter is that it's something that's not going to go away," she said. "People are demanding this because they're getting this at their bookstores."

Alire said the most common model she has seen is for the city to lease a space to a private cafe, though some cities set up a cafe and have a private group operate it.

The existing library is 43 years old and lacks adequate parking and display space for its growing collection. Some have suggested adding a cafe at the current location, but librarians say there's already a shortage of space for materials.

There were 379,682 visits to the Central Library in 2009 and 648,227 materials circulated from the location during the same time period, library director Cynthia Berner Harris said.

The city circulated 6.1 materials — books, DVDs and so forth — per capita last year.

The city is still considering someday building a new amphitheater across McLean on the west bank of the Arkansas River, but that would not be included in the library budget.

The library's $8.4 million budget is sustained by local tax dollars, state and federal grants and user fees.

For someone with a $100,000 home, the library absorbs about $11.21 of the $367.67 share of taxes the city gets. That's more than the city's transit and municipal courts departments, but less than the parks and fire departments.

Police take the largest share at $108.40.

Overall, culture and leisure account for 8 percent of the taxes the city collected, according to the city budget.

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