Big changes are in store for the Olathe Public Library.
Olathe City Council members on Tuesday expressed enthusiasm for ideas coming from consultants hired to work on a new expansion plan for the city’s two branch libraries.
Consultants from the San Francisco based firm Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc. prepared for Tuesday’s council work session by holding public forums and meetings with library staff and community members to get a feel for what Olathe residents wanted in their libraries. Consultants also conducted an online survey, which drew around 1,000 responses.
In late March, the consultants will hold another round of community forums, and after refining their suggestions, they hope to present their final results to the city council in May.
Some of the ideas consultants offered to the council on Tuesday were their own, others were suggested by the public.
One of the main ideas consultants came up with was giving each library its own unique identity, while still maintaining core services at both.
For example, amenities for the more suburban Indian Creek branch could be a children’s storytime meadow, a learning lab and a large community room, said David Schnee, a principal with Group 4.
For the downtown location, amenities could include a maker space featuring state-of-the-art technology such as a 3-D printer, and an in-depth local history section, Schnee told the council at the work session.
The consultants also revealed ideas for physical expansions at both locations.
For Indian Creek, ideas include adding a new wing, wrapping new space around the current building or an integrated addition.
For the downtown location, expansion ideas include renovating the building and adding a second floor, replacing the current building with a new two-story building, or replacing and relocating the library with a new two-story building.
Another idea, more outside the box, would involve bringing in a private developer who could incorporate the library into a mixed-use space, with retail and residential units.
Mayor Michael Copeland liked the idea of both libraries being unique in their own way, but he didn’t want to shortchange educational space for either location by giving only one branch a learning lab.
“Olathe is a family community, so I want to make sure learning opportunities are equal at both places,” he said. “But I agree, if we’re going to have a maker space, with expensive equipment and technology, I feel like we should have one really great one rather than two mediocre ones.”
Councilman Larry Campbell said his biggest concern was seeing the library center too much on displaying books, when it should be focusing on innovation and technology.
“There needs to be a way for people to get the book they want, but with less shelves, so maybe kiosks could be an option?” he said. “I think there will be a day when a book is a novelty. Technology is moving on us and we need to stay ahead of the game so our library is still relevant 25 years from now.”
Councilman Jim Randall concurred.
He said he recently walked into a library in Denver and didn’t even realize it was a library, because the first things he saw were kiosks and an auditorium and a maker space with digital saws.
“When you walk inside and you don’t see one single book, that changes your perception of what a library will become,” Randall said. “What a library is to me is a problem solver. The problems of the twenty-first century are not checking out books, but instead using technology to get the answer.”
Several members of the public appeared to agree with the council.
Consultants told the council that a few of the ideas thrown out by the community included an outdoor amphitheater, a planetarium and café space.
Although the council didn’t have much time to discuss the physical options, due to a time constraint, residents at the public forums, held Feb. 24 and 25, enthusiastically pored over them.
At a recent public forum at the downtown library, residents were particularly intrigued with the possibility of creating the library as a mixed-use hotspot for Millennials.
Bob Clark, a computer software developer, said the idea could attract more hip restaurants and entertainment venues to the downtown area.
“It’s hard to get young people to move to the suburbs,” he said. “They all want to live in urban areas. So if we can make downtown Olathe a cool, vibrant place to live, I think that would be great. It also makes sense with Garmin nearby.”
At the public forums, residents agreed expansion at both libraries was desperately needed.
Public meeting space has significantly shrunk at both locations because of expanding book and media collections and technology.
Also at both locations, seating is difficult to find and browsing space is tight.
The downtown Olathe library was built in 1979 when the city’s population was barely 38,000. That building was expected to handle growth for the next 20 to 25 years, at which point the population of Olathe was expected to be 50,000. Olathe reached that number by 1986.
The Indian Creek branch, which opened in 2000, was built too small because of rising construction costs.
“I came to this library when its doors first opened, but I’m not against progress,” said Olathe resident Mary Jo O’Brien, speaking of the downtown library where she worked for nearly 20 years. “There’s not a lot of room to grow in the current building and we knew change would happen from the day we moved in. I would not want to repress our needs for the sake of nostalgia.”
Her thoughts were echoed by many community members to the consultants.
“Olathe is a unique, wonderful place, so we want libraries the city can be proud of,” said Jill Eyres, an architect with Group 4. “We’ve heard some really great ideas.”
The council’s thoughts and the public’s input are just the tip of the iceberg for the expansion plans.
None of the ideas presented to the council last week are set in stone and a budget has not even been set yet for the project.
Consultants are also unsure which library should be expanded first.
Jennifer Bhargava: firstname.lastname@example.org
To take the library survey, visit surveymonkey.com/r/OlatheLibraries.
Indian Creek branch temporarily closed
A water-line break has forced the temporary closure of the Indian Creek branch of the Olathe library, 12009 S. Black Bob Road. Patrons can use the library’s downtown location, 201 E. Park, until Indian Creek can be reopened. Materials can be returned at the goLibrary in the Olathe Community Center and other drop off locations in the city.
Officials do not know how long the branch will be closed.