Preliminary proposal would nearly double county’s library system

04/15/2014 5:39 PM

04/15/2014 5:39 PM

Johnson County Librarian Sean Casserley is proposing to nearly double the size of the library system over the next 20 years in a modernization of county libraries to be paid for with a property tax increase.

Casserley presented his preliminary plan, which imagines opening new branches while perhaps closing others, to the county library board last hursday.

While the board did not immediately vote to move forward with the plan, Chairwoman Mitra Templin said the time is right to do so.

“The county had so many pressing needs with parks and so forth that the libraries have fallen by the wayside,” she said. “I think there would be good support. With property values rising again, it may be a good time to look at that.”

The board is expected to discuss and vote on the plan at a future board meeting, perhaps as soon as next month.

The plan’s costs, and therefore size of any tax increase, has not been determined.

Recommendations on what library or libraries to close and where to open new ones would be part of a study to be completed by a library consulting firm.

“That would be part of the study we are asking to be done,” he said. “Then we’ll determine the cost and how to build and do it in the most economically responsible way.”

Casserley said that if and when the library board approves a detailed expansion plan, it would forward that request to the Johnson County Commission. If commissioners approve, they can then either raise the mill levy on their own authority to pay for the expansion or put the increase on the ballot for voters to decide.

The plan Casserley submitted to the board calls for adding about 245,000 square feet of space to the current library system, which now has nearly 261,000 square feet spread among 13 locations.

The plan would divide the system into two types of libraries — “convenience” libraries with popular collections and drive-through windows close to people’s homes and large “destination” libraries that also would serve as centers for public meetings, cultural and recreational activities.

Convenience libraries would have storytimes for children, literacy classes and would have expanded service hours. They would be located “on major arterial roadways,” the report recommends.

A destination library could feature an auditorium, cutting-edge technology in rooms for meetings and studying and flexible spaces for community use.

Casserley said the recommendation for expanding the size of the library system came after comparing the Johnson County system to 17 similar-sized Midwest communities. Average library square footage for 10,000 residents was found to be 0.85; Johnson County Library has 0.6657, the report said. It envisions meeting the county’s library needs for the next 20 years, considering projected population growth is expected to be 750,000 in 20 years.

“Many of our older buildings are characterized as feeling cramped with little room for displays of new material and few spaces for people to collaborate or quietly work alone,” the report states.

The report is styled as a “library facilities master plan.”

The plan builds on a 2009 facilities master plan that first brought up the idea of closing Cedar Roe Library in Roeland Park and that led to the purchase of land in Shawnee’s Monticello neighborhood for future expansion. The board discussed the need for a new plan at its daylong retreat in July.

The economic recession that affected Johnson County’s budget led to a retrenchment in library operating hours. And while those cuts have since been restored and Cedar Roe remains open, Casserley said the system had not physically kept up with demographic changes within the county.

Some of the current library buildings have structural problems, others have unusable space because they are not accessible to the disabled, and “still others have just reached the end of their lifespan,” the report said.

Casserley said that, assuming the library board approves the plan and the cost of the study at a future meeting, it would take most of 2015 to complete the detailed study. That means any formal request for a tax hike to fund the plan would probably not come until 2016.

Casserley’s report came out of a planning process from the past year that involved the library staff and board, county commission and staff, city mayors and school superintendents.

“All of these voices have helped shape this report,” the report said.

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