Lawrence Public Library board members discuss expansion proposal

October 13, 2010

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Library Board

On Nov. 2, 2010, Lawrence voters will decide the fate of an $18 million proposal to expand Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. From 12 to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 13 Mike Machell, Lawrence Public Library board member, and Alice Ann Johnston, co-chair of the "Vote YES for the Library" steering committee, were available via live chat to answer your questions about the proposal.


Welcome to our live chat with Mike Machell, Lawrence Public Library board member, and Alice Ann Johnston, co-chair of the “Vote YES for the Library” steering committee! We're ready to start taking questions, so feel free to submit at any time.

Library Board:

We are happy to be available to you to answer your questions about the library expansion project.


I would like to understand the $18MM estimated price for the project. Can we get a breakdown of the cost of the various project elements? i.e. cost to construct for renovation, parking, addition, architectural costs, furnishings, etc.
Thank you!

Library Board:

The $18 million includes $13.7 million for the cost of renovating the existing structure and $4.3 million for the parking garage. Please be aware that the Library Foundation is also being asked to raise an additional $1 million mainly for furnishings and other enhancements. Although there is a more specific breakdown of costs, note also that the final architectural plans won't be developed until the referendum passes.


You said that his proposal is modest in comparison to the last proposal - how do they compare?

Library Board:

There were a number of proposals made in 2006 that totaled about $30 million - $20 million for the library and $10 million for parking. Most of these contemplated locations other than the current site. The current proposal is $18 million total.


Many LJW commenters have said that as Lawrence expands west they feel a satellite branch on the far end of town would be a better use of funding. Are additional locations part of your short-term or long-term vision for the library?

Library Board:

It is part of our long-term vision for the library. Right now we could not handle the logistics of operating remote sites in the current facility. We need the improvements contemplated in the referendum to make our back-office functions more efficient. At this point, we feel it is best to invest in a fully functional downtown library that meets all of our current needs and determine how to address satellites at a future time. Moreover, the feedback from our outreach efforts in the community prior to bringing this to the city commission indicated that there was significant support for a downtown library.


I remember some discussion a few years ago concerning the relatively small number of books and new purchases at the LPL as compared to libraries in cities of a similar size.

What will the expansion mean for the collection itself?

Library Board:

We can't be specific at this time about the exact number of books to be added, but we are adding 20,000 square feet and some of that will be dedicated to additional space for the collection.


If the proposal passes, won't the operating costs of the library increase due to larger areas to heat, cool, light, and clean? How do you plan to fund this increased cost?

Library Board:

Yes, however we anticipate that upgrades in the HVAC will provide us with efficiencies that we are not currently receiving. These upgrades will result in savings in the operating costs of the building. The HVAC on the existing building is from the original construction in 1972. We are planning to apply for LEED certification once the architectural design is completed. Administrative costs will be determined after the library is completed, but we estimate that will require an additional 0.5 mil cost to operate a larger facility. The city commission will add that amount to the library's mil levy.


Many users want to know if — in addition to the added computers — you will make room for other electronics like iPads, Kindles and iPods?

Library Board:

We certainly need to keep up with changes in new technology as we continue to assess the services we provide to the community. Recall that 20-25 years ago, we didn't offer much in the way of music and now CDs and DVDs are quite common and popular items checked out of the library. We didn't have computers either. Our challenge is to continue to provide these services so that everyone in the community has equal access to information.


First, let me acknowledge that I am part owner of the Riverfront mall property, adjacent property and an officer with the World Company. Regardless of any personal benefit, I believe there are alternatives to the $18 million library expansion plan that is being presented for a public vote.
I believe the following scenario deserves consideration. These numbers were sent on June 18th to library board members and city commission members. I never heard one word back.
$1.7 million: Buy Abe and Jakes. 20,000 square feet, large public entertaining, reading, meeting, and coffee shop space on the river, on city land.
$4.5 million: Buy the west half of the Riverfront Plaza. Three levels, 70,000 square feet, 230 cat-5 Ethernet wired computer stations, 500 parking stalls, all on city land.
$5 million: Renovate the 40,000 square feet on floors one and two at $125/square foot.
For $11 million, Lawrence could have a beautiful 90,000-square-foot library, on the river, with a 500-stall existing parking structure, all on city-owned land and enhancing the city’s relationship to the river. And the community library still would be downtown.
All work could be done with no interruption to current library operations. The city then could sell the existing library space to help finance the project. Who knows? Possibly a downtown grocery might materialize.
I’ve been told an excuse for not considering this is that the Plaza is not class A property. Why would the city government need class A property in these times? I’ve heard some people don’t think the facility can structurally support the weight of stacks of books. This is untrue; we have provided engineering studies that show it can.
This space also offers the possibility for future expansion. For about $7 million (at $200 a square foot), a 35,000-square-foot glassed indoor space could be created on the Plaza roof overlooking the river.
This idea and other alternatives deserve to be publicly discussed.

why was this not publicly discussed , what was the process to eliminate alternative ideas

Library Board:

The feedback we received from our public outreach was significantly supportive of keeping the library at the existing site. As for your question about the process to eliminate alternative ideas, there was a study session that included the library, city commissioners, architects and others that looked at various design options prior to submitting a final proposal to the city commission.


As you can tell by my username, I am a frequent visitor to and supporter of the Lawrence Public Library, but like many people, I'm a little curious about the timing. Considering the current economic conditions, is right now the best time for such a project? Thanks!

Library Board:

We think it is. Use of the library is up significantly - about 10-12% per year. Circulation also continues to increase. We average 50,000 patrons a month. During the recession, Lawrence citizens looked to the library to meet their informational and entertainment needs and the library was able to help them. We have also seen that the cost of construction and interest rates make this a very good time to invest in the city's infrastructure. It will never be more cost effective to do this than now.


Where are the funds for the 'yes for the' coming from? Are there any taxpayer dollars going to fund the campaign or are these all private donations?

Library Board:

"Vote YES for the Library" is funded through private donations. It is a grass-roots organization with a steering committee of 92 members.


We had many questions about the proposed parking garage. Can you explain the logistics of the parking garage — specifically size, location and who will be allowed to park in the garage? Many users are specifically concerned about overflow parking from the pool during the summer.

Library Board:

The proposed parking garage would be built in the same location as the current parking lot. It would increase the number of spaces from 125 to about 250. There would be entrances off both Kentucky and Vermont streets. As proposed, the parking structure is intended to address parking needs for the pool, library, senior center and other downtown businesses. So anyone would be able to park there just as they do in the parking lot the library currently uses.


What were the three most frequently mentioned criticisms of the proposal found during public input?
How did you change the proposal based on this input? What is your response to these criticisms (be specific please).

Library Board:

1. Is now the right time? I believe we addressed that issue in an earlier posting. We didn't change the proposal, but we definitely considered this concern when determining the overall cost of the project. We didn't believe that a $30 million project was feasible at this time - as was proposed in 2006.

2. Why not satellites? I believe that we responded to this concern as well in an earlier post. Our approach in the short-term was to consider options for providing service (such as a drive-up service window) to patrons who did not have time to park and come in to the building. Long-term we believe that satellites are still a possibility once we have the functionality to handle it in the future.

3. Parking garage. There were some who expressed concern that $4.3 million of the total project would be spent to enhance parking. We felt that this was necessary because there are parking issues with respect to the pool and other downtown needs. We felt that we needed to do this for the project to work.


Assuming that the proposal passes the vote what is the estimated completion date for the project?

Library Board:

We believe 9-12 months for completing the architectural work and 9-12 months for construction. We anticipate completion sometime in latter part of 2012. Obviously these are broad numbers right now, so could change once the architectural planning work begins.


What studies were done (and by whom) to determine what library facilities Lawrence needs now? How long would the expanded library be expected to satisfy the city's needs?

Library Board:

A feasibility study was conducted by Gould Evans to determine what we could do and what the likely cost would be. The requested tax increase is planned for 20 years, so our planning for an expanded library is targeted to some time beyond that time frame. Our planning has considered needs for the next 25-30 years. Obviously, future growth of Lawrence may change those numbers.


We have about 15 minutes left in our live chat with Lawrence Public Library board member Mike Machell and Alice Ann Johnston, co-chair of the "Vote YES for the Library" steering committee. There is still time for a few last-minute questions. You can submit them below. (Great questions so far!)


I mostly use the upper level of the library for books, music, etc, but I hear many people throw around the argument that its only "homeless people" who use the computers and therefore we don't need more. Is this true? Who uses the library computers? What do they use them for?

Library Board:

Everyone uses the library computers. We had 10,000 users in the month of July alone. People are using the computers to do research, look for jobs, work on homework, and for social networking. A study commissioned by the University of Washington Information School and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation estimated that 1/3 of Americans - about 77 million people - use the library for their computer needs. We believe very strongly that the mission of the public library is to ensure that everyone in the community has access to vital information they need to improve their lives.


dsimons' question has me wondering, what happens if the current proposal fails? Would the board go back to less expensive alternative proposals?

Library Board:

We aren't expecting it to fail. If it did, we would continue to provide the best service to the community we can in the existing facility. However, we do not think that the current library facility can continue to meet those needs. We would definitely need to consider future proposals, but I don't know that I can say right now what those would be.


One of the reasons for the expansion of the computer labs is to ensure we maintain the library's ability to secure grants from the Northeast Kansas Library System. How many grants have we secured in the past 5 years from them and what was the dollar amount?

Library Board:

That's a good question. There are really a couple of reasons we want to meet accreditation standards that NEKLS sets for libraries. One is that the standards represent "best library practice" for a community our size. So if we are not meeting these standards, then we are under-serving our community. We obviously don't want to do that. The grant funding amount at risk is approximately $50-75k, which may not sound like a lot of money, but we need to preserve every funding source we have.


If the plan passes and a new garage is built, will all of it be metered parking or will some if it be free 2hr parking like the existing parking garage.

Library Board:

That's a decision that the city ultimately will need make. However, our understanding is that it would continue to be metered parking just as it is today.


I find the local library limited on its available resources. I frequently have to do an interlibrary loan to obtain the materials/resources I need. Are there plans to improve the library's available resources?

Library Board:

We will be seeking to expand in a number of areas. The children's area will double in size, we will triple the number of public computers, and double the meeting room space. Obviously, some space will be used to enhance the collection, particularly for popular items that generate long wait times for our patrons. Inter-library loan is available now; it would depend on the types of items you are using to know for certain whether those would be more available to you in an expanded library.


Unfortunately, we are out of time! I'd like to thank Lawrence Public Library board member Mike Machell and Alice Ann Johnston, co-chair of the "Vote YES for the Library" steering committee for joining us for the chat today and for answering our users' questions.

The transcript will be available online immediately following the close of the live chat. Thank you everyone for your participation!

Library Board:

Obviously this topic has generated a lot of interest and we appreciate everyone's questions and input. We hope that everyone will get out to vote on November 2nd!


KansasPerson 7 years, 8 months ago

Twice during this chat, the library representatives said that "some" of the new square footage would be devoted to expanding the collection. Are there not any specific numbers on how much? I would be willing to vote for an expansion that expanded the collection of books for adults as well as the other upgrades mentioned, but if the money is going to go mostly for meeting space, more computers, and a parking garage, I'm still on the fence.

d_prowess 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree. It seems like there is a whole lot of, "things will get better; we need this" coming from these folks without any specific details. Obviously they don't have the architectural plans yet, but they must have some figures in mind. And if not, then that would be a sign that they don't truly know what they really need!

d_prowess 7 years, 8 months ago

I am sorry I missed this chat. I am still very interested to know who makes up the 191 groups that were turned away because of a lack of meeting space and why the library is responsible for providing free space.
Also, beside just quoting the number of users of the library (which are just arbitrary numbers to most of us), why don't they explain what services can be provided because of the increase in use they continue to mention. What is being neglected? What is not getting done? etc.

avoice 7 years, 8 months ago

Good point. I wonder if there has been an exponential increase in the number of groups asking to use the library for meeting space since the downturn in the economy. Groups that previously spent money on meeting space may be clamoring to get free meeting space via the library. And would that demand dry up as the economy improves?

Now, if the library were to charge for room rental and therefore recoup some of the cost of this project, then maybe we'd be talking.

KansasPerson 7 years, 8 months ago

I'd also like to know how they know what people are using the computers for. It's not like they come and stand over their shoulders and watch.

northtowngrl 7 years, 8 months ago

Of course staff don't stand over patrons' shoulders to monitor sites, but people have questions that staff need to answer, they need help finding the information that will best help them, cookies are enabled... there are tons of ways of knowing which sites someone is using.

David Roberts 7 years, 8 months ago

but... when asked how the computers here, in our library, in Lawrence, KS were being used, the response was...

"People are using the computers to do research, look for jobs, work on homework, and for social networking. A study commissioned by the University of Washington Information School and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation estimated that 1/3 of Americans - about 77 million people - use the library for their computer needs.

The kind of answer that I am looking for, and perhaps others as well is something like:

There have been 105,256 specific user transactions in 2010 through September. Most transactions involve a visit to multiple sites for a wide variety of purposes. In all there have been 1,234,563 site visits using library computers in 2010. Our research shows that 563,087 site visits utilized entertainment sites, such as Facebook or YouTube; 425,786 visits to e-mail servers, such as Hotmail and Gmail; 73,745 visits to news sites... Furthermore, library computers are in use 86.7% of the time that they are available, which leaves long waits for computer access during peak periods. (NOTE: sample here--not real data)

Just an idea. With that kind of info about computer usage, I could weigh how willing I am to vote to support public spending for additional resources.

Ricky_Vaughn 7 years, 7 months ago

They even admitted that patrons use library computers for social networking, among other things.

ferrislives 7 years, 8 months ago

"...1/3 of Americans - about 77 million people - use the library for their computer needs"

1/3 of all Americans? Uh, I don't think so. I think that's complete B.S.

no_thanks 7 years, 8 months ago

Nice dialogue. Dsimons suggestions are worthy of exploration, but unfortunately, the drivers of this campaign are unwilling to recognize such alternatives as "viable". Check out the trends with, Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc... Electronic subscriptions are surpassing paperbacks. CDs and DVD distribution can be filled by the private sector (Columbia House, Netflix, etc...). Give the library a facelift. Invest in technology. Expand the number of locations. Those are investments that likely offer a much higher return than the presented proposal. Further, the annual operating budget of $3.5MM, funded by our property taxes, should be more than enough for doing much of what has been proposed.

somebodynew 7 years, 8 months ago

I do think dsimons had some good "viable" ideas, and appreciated the up-front disclaimer before presenting them. I did not like the response from the board. Seems like none of those ideas were deemed worthy enough for the public to consider and that seems to be a narrow view by the "advisory board" that came up with this plan. (Which if I remember correctly, seems to tie into plans by a Fritzel for future expansion he has planned.)

Am I wrong here???????

chocolateplease 7 years, 8 months ago

I agree. I didn't realize that the Riverfront property had that much going for it in terms of a library option. From their answers, I have no idea why that idea was shot down.

IronChefKS 7 years, 8 months ago

"People are using the computers to do research, look for jobs, work on homework, and for social networking." Social networking certainly sounds like a fair need to put this on the backs of taxpayers.

slowplay 7 years, 8 months ago

I think the Library expansion itself is a worthwhile cause but it should not include a city parking structure. I will vote no.

nathan 7 years, 8 months ago

I've always thought libraries need to focus more on being an excellent meeting place, a place where work gets done. It's too bad the Riverfront proposal wasn't given more consideration. I was in the hotel near there a couple weeks ago admiring the views.

nathan 7 years, 8 months ago

Dan Hill gives a great talk on how interaction design is merging with architecture and urban planning. If you fast-forward to about the 11:40 mark he discusses his research on how public wifi transformed a library space in Brisbane: Kinda interesting.

ToriFreak13 7 years, 8 months ago

Looks like it is time to put the public library on YouTube. Parking issues three months out of the year? Not worth the investment, and I do not believe it. I have been down there quite often. Sure it isn't easy, but it's not easy to get parking at the post office either. Their numbers are extremely inflated. Half of the population of Lawrence enters your doors each month? But you can't satisfy the tows needs? Contradict much? 10,000 users of computers each month? Each person can check out the computer how many times a day? You see the same faces there every day on myspace and facebook. You want to add computers fine...not $18 million worth. Each and every school has a library that is being paid for. Start encouraging your kids to use them in school where they should be instead of making the Mil-Spec security play babysitter.

David Roberts 7 years, 8 months ago

I am extremely dissatisfied with the amount of information that has been provided to the public on this item. The Library Board should: 1) identify the needs specifically (they've sort of done this, but we are being asked to use our imagination too much here), 2) articulate the priorities among those needs 3) quantify the needs (you've got the data, just give it to us) 4) show what alternative actions have been considered and why they were rejected (example: the LB keeps telling us that they don't want to use satellite libraries because they don't have the ability to readily transfer materials between facilities. Most suggestions I've heard solve that problem by focusing on using off-site locations for non-circulating uses only (ie. meeting space, computer space, reference material space). 5) give us specific reasons with data and persuasive reasoning why each element of this proposal should be accepted. I have yet to hear what I consider to be one persuasive argument in support of any part of this proposal. Anyone????

I love reading and education, but this proposal doesn't appear to be about that.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Forget the additional parking city hall is demanding.

We taxpayers don't want to pay for it.

There are sidewalks and streets throughout the older neighborhoods that need the money spent on those items. This can also keep people on the jobs.

If the city has the "extra tax dollars" put them where they would be best spent. On the existing streets and sidewalks. A walkable community requires safe sidewalks.

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