New library branches in Monticello and the Stilwell area, bigger ones at De Soto, Lenexa and Spring Hill and a new center for sorting and transporting items are among the 20-year priorities for the Johnson County Library system.
The long-range plan that library officials laid out to the county commission last week has a $399.4 million price tag and comes with a request for a tax increase. To fully fund the expansion in the 20-year time frame, a 1.15 mill increase would be needed, raising $269 million over that period.
The county library board recently approved a long-range plan that would increase total library square footage from the current 282,000 to 422,000, an increase of about 33 percent. Last week officials put some dollar figures with their plan and presented them to commissioners, who will have the final say about tax increases.
The library has independent management and a separate tax levy from the county’s general operating budget. The library’s current levy is 3.157 mills. A mill equals $1 of taxes per $1,000 assessed valuation.
The space expansion is necessary to keep up with the county’s population growth, officials said. But despite the overall increase, library officials have actually pulled back on the amount of space they think they’ll need per person, said Sean Casserley, county librarian.
In 2009, library staff had figured they would need about three-quarters of a square foot per person. Now the recommendation is about 0.6 square foot, he said.
That’s largely because of digital material. The rise of digital books has meant the space needs of libraries are leveling off, Casserley told the commission.
Electronic books and materials have been a big question mark in how the library plans for its future. During the public meetings on the plan, participants were asked if they thought people will still read physical books in the future. But Casserley quoted a study by the Pew Research Center that says that only about 3 percent of the population reads on exclusively electronic formats. Traditional book reading may be declining, but “I believe there will be physical books around for the next 20 years,” Casserley said.
The library plan stresses flexibility in its buildings, shelving and furniture in the future, he said, so changing space needs can be adapted to.
The plan calls for three new library locations. The Monticello branch is already in the works, and the Blue Valley South branch would be added in the Stilwell area. The Monticello branch is planned for 30,000 square feet and Blue Valley South, 40,000.
The plan also includes a new 40,000-square-foot operations center, which would be a sort of logistics area for handling items in transit. Centralizing that operation would save money because some of it could be automated, Casserley said. It could also free up some space in library branches where sorting is currently done. That center could be in either a new or existing building.
In addition, some library branches would be rebuilt on new sites, dramatically increasing their space. De Soto would be rebuilt from its current 4,000 square feet to 20,000; the Lackman Library in Lenexa would go from 18,000 square feet to 40,000 and the Spring Hill branch from 3,000 square feet to 20,000. All of those relocations are planned within their respective cities. Modernizations are also planned for other locations without changing their cities or square footage.
The Antioch branch, however, would get a reduction in space from 35,000 square feet to 15,000. That’s because that branch currently has a lot of operating space that isn’t open to the public, said Christopher Leitch, library spokesman. When the operations center is running, that space wouldn’t be needed at Antioch.
Casserley presented details of the plan along with four mill levy options for the commission to consider, with a breakout of what each option could buy.
The smallest levy increase of a half mill, for instance, would fund about 62 percent of the plan and would allow the library to acquire and convert an operations center, build the Monticello library, replace the Lackman Library at a new site, replace the Corinth Library at its current site and acquire land for the Blue Valley South branch.
Three-quarters of a mill adds construction of Blue Valley and replacement of Antioch and a one-mill increase would add Cedar Roe replacement and land acquisition for Spring Hill.
The proposal now goes to the commission for consideration for the 2016 budget.
The last time the library got a mill levy increase was in 1994, but it was later rolled back in 1999, along with other county tax levies.