The Lawrence Public Library is ready to chart a course for its future.
The library's board of trustees is assembling a 10- or 12-member task force to sort through the issues of space, location and mission.
"We need to have a goal, a direction, a plan. Right now, we don't have that," said board chairman Craig Penzler. "What is it, for example, that Lawrence really needs? What is it willing to support? Is there a better location downtown? Or would it be better to add on to where we are now?"
The board gained one option recently from Dan Simons, part owner and managing member of Riverfront LLC, which owns the mall. He told the board the group would sell about half of the mall -- the portion not owned by Marriott SpringHill Suites or under lease to the city of Lawrence -- for $5.7 million.
Simons said he would sweeten the deal by getting Sprint to leave behind the 230 ethernet-equipped cubicles still in the company's now-closed call center in the lower level.
"One of the things the library wants to do is expand -- really expand -- the public's access to computers and to the Internet," Simons said. "They have 30 work stations now. I don't see how they could get to 230 any cheaper."
Simons is director of new ventures at The World Company, which owns the Journal-World.
At the mall, the library would have access to 60,000 square feet of space -- 15,000 more than it occupies at its location in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street. Whether the idea flies remains to be seen.
"We were excited to have Dan come," Penzler said, "but the more we talked, the clearer it became that we really need to have a clear sense of what it is we want to be."
Board plans call for selecting the task force members by December in hopes of reaching a consensus by April or May.
Penzler said he doubted there would be much support for doing nothing.
"Let's see, where to begin?" he said. "The meeting rooms and the auditorium are booked solid through March. The mixed media room -- CDs, DVDs, videos and books on tape -- could be 10 times bigger than what it is now. There are concerns about adding to the (book) collection because there isn't the space.
"We have 30 Internet ports," Penzler said. "The library in Topeka has 125. What does that tell you?"
Library director Bruce Flanders said space in the children's section was so limited the library had been "forced to use tall shelving that is age inappropriate."
Flanders declined to predict the expansion's costs. "Until there's a plan, that's really hard to know," he said. "But the Topeka expansion was $23 million; I don't think we're talking that much."
Similar to the new Lawrence Arts Center, Flanders said the library expansion eventually would be financed with a mix of private and public funds, including a city mill levy.
Asked to critique Simons' proposal, Flanders cited its strengths:
- The mall's proximity to City Hall.
- The uniqueness of being on the river.
- What appears to be adequate parking.
- Taking over the call center's cubicles.
And its hurdles:
- The cost of reinforcing the property's flooring to meet standards for supporting the weight of the library's book collection.
- Having three floors, rather than two, would add to the library's staffing costs.
- Location would not be as high-profile as it is now.
- Not enough room for long-term growth.
"When the library moved out of the Carnegie building and into the 707 Vt. location in 1972, it went from 5,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet," Flanders said. "Now, 31 years later, 45,000 square feet -- which, at the time, represented a ninefold increase -- isn't big enough. So if that kind of growth continues, is 60,000 square feet going to be enough?"
Flanders pegged the library's long-term space needs at "100,000 square feet or more."