Overland Park & Leawood

July 24, 2014

Johnson County Library study of future needs speeds up

The Johnson County Library system now hopes a study of future needs will be completed by next spring.

A study exploring the needs of the Johnson County Library system for the next 20 years has been speeded up.

The library’s board took just eight minutes on Wednesday to move up by a year its plan to commission a look at coming changes and demands on the system.

That reflected a shift from an April meeting, when the board accepted a steering committee report that recommended nearly doubling the size of the library system. It currently has 261,000 square feet of library space across 13 locations.

At that time, County Librarian Sean Casserley said it would take most of 2015 to complete a more detailed study that could form the basis of a 2016 request for a property tax increase to fund the expansion and renovation.

At Wednesday’s meeting, however, the board voted unanimously to take up to $350,000 out of its reserve fund to hire a consultant by the end of September. Casserley said the consultant’s final report could be expected by April 2015. The library board will consider and perhaps modify the report, and then forward it to the County Commission for further action.

Casserley said the process had been moved up after getting feedback from the county commissioners.

“When talking with the commission and the county manager, we found a pathway to do so,” Casserley said.

He said he expected a “great response” to the library’s request for study proposals from various consultants. He said there are about a half dozen architectural firms that specialize in library planning.

“We will look at three ideas: Preservation, renovation and innovation,” Casserley said. “They will look at our present infrastructure and see what they can preserve and renovate, where it makes sense to do that, and innovate by building new facilities. They will look at our locations, work with our cities and school superintendents — our major stakeholders — to understand our position, our needs and desires.”

The steering committee — made up of library staff and county officials — sought public input and compared Johnson County’s system to 17 similar-sized Midwest communities.

Board Chairwoman Mitra Templin said the steering committee looked at population growth and vehicle-usage patterns, among other factors, in making its recommendations.

The consultant will be asked to envision a best-possible future, she said, without regard to limitations. The library board and county commission will then have to consider budget and other factors in turning the report into reality.

The board, she said, wants a bifurcated system of “destination and convenience libraries.” The destination libraries would have more extensive physical spaces and programming. The convenience libraries would be smaller and closer to residents’ homes. She said the board also wants to connect the library system to parks and public transit.

Budget cuts brought on by the economic recession led the library to cut more than 50 positions, and, at one point, it considered closing the Cedar Roe Library. A 2009 facilities master plan led to the purchase of land in Shawnee’s Monticello neighborhood for future expansion. A board retreat one year ago got the ball rolling toward system-wide expansion.

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