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New plan for $30 million library to go before Wichita council

A $30 million, state-of-the-art facility at Second and McLean is proposed to replace the downtown Wichita Public Library. (Jan. 8, 2015)
A $30 million, state-of-the-art facility at Second and McLean is proposed to replace the downtown Wichita Public Library. (Jan. 8, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Wichita city and public library officials plan to move ahead on a new state-of-the-art central library, expected to cost $30 million and be constructed on city land at Second and McLean.

The latest library plan will be presented Tuesday to the Wichita City Council. Council members will be asked to authorize the design phase of the building – estimated to cost $1.31 million – which will be financed by the Wichita Public Library Foundation.

The design is expected to be completed by November. The city’s portion of the $30 million project would be $27.5 million. The library foundation is hoping to raise $5 million, including $2.5 million to finance technology components of the building.

If the building design is submitted as planned, bids could be let soon after and construction could start as early as spring 2016. It would take up to two years to build, said library director Cynthia Berner.

Still in flux will be what type of technology will be placed in the building and what construction materials will be used, she said.

“This can be one of those spaces that will draw people from throughout the community and region,” Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said of the proposed new library.

“The library today is an infrastructure issue. Just like streets, water and sewer issues, we have public buildings that have to be upgraded. The library is probably one of the most significant.”

Changed plans

Funding for the new library is possible, Layton said, because of a surplus of landfill money identified more than a year ago.

The state conducted an analysis of the money, which had been set aside for the closure of a local landfill. The state determined the city had overestimated the cost of closing the facility, which left the city with $8 million. City officials said that will make it easier to finance the new library

Construction on the new library was initially scheduled to start this year, but was delayed last spring when some City Council members expressed concerns about whether the city could afford the project.

“This building is very different from where we were four or five years ago,” Layton said. “What I have continually said is that we do an injustice to the facility in calling it a new central library.

“It is very different from a traditional library. We are not just trying to replicate and modernize what we have currently. It is a game changer. It makes us a trendsetter and puts us on the front end of how we pass knowledge on to our children and grandchildren and how they will use that information to innovate.”

Books will still be featured in the new library building, but will be on roll-out shelves and kept in compact storage.

Library officials had initially looked at remodeling the current facility at 223 S. Main but estimated it would cost nearly $22 million.

Constructing a new building or remodeling the current library – which opened in 1967 – would be the equivalent of making a choice between having a 1970 Vega that was rusted out, with a bad engine and getting it in prime running condition, or for a little more money getting a new car with a navigation system and air bags, said Don Barry, chair of the Wichita Public Library Foundation.

If a new library building is constructed, the old library building could be used as an extension for spill-over conventions, banquets and other events from Century II, Layton said.

Community learning center

The new library building would be a transition from a traditional library to a community learning center, Berner said.

“While most libraries are built around the collection and have a few meeting rooms, this building has improved places for the collection,” she said. “It doesn’t start with creating space to hold the inventory but starts with creating spaces where people from different walks of life – students, seniors, co-workers – can come together and collaborate.”

The first floor would have three meeting rooms that could function independently or together, with seating for up to 300 people. It could have a stage and movie screen and space to operate a cafe.

It will have family restrooms and spaces for nursing mothers. There will also be rooms with special furniture for children with autism.

The latest plans call for the new building to increase the square footage of current library from 89,000 to 95,000. But while only half of that space is currently available to the public, more than 80 percent will be available in the new building.

The new building will provide up to 109 public computers, where the current one only has 31. Electrical outlets for people bringing in their own computer devices will go from 14 spaces to 120.

“This really is a different kind of building,” Berner said. “It incorporates technology into the infrastructure. The technology becomes a tool.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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