Politics & Government

Wichita City Council votes 5-2 to move ahead with library plans

The downtown Wichita Public Library. (Jan. 8, 2015)
The downtown Wichita Public Library. (Jan. 8, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

The design phase for a new central library at Second and McLean will move forward.

The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday in favor of the design phase and a funding agreement with the library foundation.

The $1.13 million design by GLMV Architecture could be finished by the end of 2015. The Wichita Public Library Foundation will reimburse the city for the cost.

Total cost for the library is expected to be $30 million, with the city paying about $27.5 million. The rest would be up to the library foundation, which hopes that about $2.5 million would go toward technology in the building.

Construction could start as early as spring 2016 and could take about two years, library officials say. Before that can happen, the council would have to take another vote to approve letting bids.

Council members Jeff Blubaugh and Pete Meitzner voted no on the proposal. Both said they were unsure of Wichita residents’ priorities after voters defeated a 1-cent-on-the-dollar sales tax proposal in November. That tax would have collected about $400 million over five years for transit, water, street maintenance and job development.

Meitzner said he thinks there are other options to fund the future construction and suggested the idea of a one-year, half-cent sales tax on a ballot to raise $35 million for the library.

“Then the foundation wouldn’t have to pay anything,” he said.

Council member Janet Miller, who voted for the measure, said this project was an example of a private-public partnership because the library foundation was pitching in.

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

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.

After the council’s vote, the lobby outside council chambers at City Hall was buzzing with library board and foundation members pleased with the news.

“I think you can see the excitement of the people who’ve really invested in this project,” said Cynthia Berner, director of libraries.

“(We) have worked very hard to listen to the community and make sure through the preliminary design process they are envisioning a building that will really move Wichita forward into the future.”

The current central library at 223 S. Main was built in 1967.

Initially, library officials looked at renovating that building for a cost of nearly $22 million. 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, city officials say.

The latest plans call for the new building to increase the square footage of the library from 89,000 to 95,000, including meeting rooms that could function independently or together, with seating for up to 300 people.

Technology could include about 110 public computers, where the current library only has 31, and additional space for people to bring and charge their own devices.

Reach Kelsey Ryan at 316-269-6752 or kryan@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_ryan.

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