The groundbreaking for any new public library is gratifying evidence of a community investing in knowledge, literacy, children and its future.
The ceremony for the $33 million Advanced Learning Library at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Second and McLean will be an even bigger milestone because of all that has preceded it, including a decade of discussion and the generous gifts recently received from the private sector as well as the city of Wichita.
The slowness of the planning ended up being purposeful, allowing rethinking of the project in light of the Great Recession and the digital information revolution. But Wichita’s leaders ultimately endorsed the idea of building a new public library to maintain a fundamental public service and ensure access for all citizens, no matter their means, to information that can help them learn and succeed.
As a result, the 50-year-old Central Library will be retired, along with its costly problems of climate control, infrastructure and accessibility.
And Wichita can look forward to a 21st-century, tech-savvy center to serve book lovers, new readers, home-schoolers, job hunters, would-be genealogists and the community at large, to open in spring 2018.
The library also will bring to life a long-dormant site along the west bank of the Arkansas River, complementing the nearby Exploration Place science museum and new River Vista apartments development.
Congratulations to the Wichita Public Library Foundation for taking what had been an initial $2.5 million goal for private fundraising and recognizing its capacity to do more. The volunteers raised the bar to $8 million, also aiming higher regarding the library’s collaborative spaces and service to children, teens, literacy and genealogy research.
The call went out last fall for more private dollars to enhance and expand this vision of a community gathering place and digitally up-to-date asset to Wichita’s educational infrastructure and cultural identity.
And the charitable and corporate donors responded: The Dwane and Velma Wallace Foundation committed $3 million. The Naftzger Fund for Fine Arts pledged $1 million.
The Capitol Federal Foundation donated $250,000. Then Cox Communications contributed $250,000 cash for the Digital Pavilion and an $250,000 in-kind gift of gigabit-speed fiber internet service. The foundation is $1.8 million short of its $8 million goal, and looking for more donors’ help.
The need prevailed. Now, elected leaders and charitable donors are coming together to meet it. Well-done.