Archive for Saturday, May 7, 2005

Director wants library to stay put

Parking figures largely in decision

May 7, 2005


Lawrence Public Library director Bruce Flanders has witnessed the scene all too often: A hot summer day and cars are circling through his building's parking lot like hungry buzzards.

"There's a lot of days that it is not a pretty sight," Flanders said of the library lot, directly across the street from the city's popular Outdoor Aquatic Center.

Flanders and other library leaders have decided any expansion of Lawrence Public Library must also fix that parking problem. That's why Flanders will recommend to city commissioners Tuesday night to discontinue examining two other proposed downtown sites to house a new library and parking garage, and instead focus all their attention on the current site at 707 Vt.

"I think we have realized that we could expand here and have the opportunity to put in a significant amount of parking that could really benefit this entire area of downtown," Flanders said. "The parking can benefit much more than the library."

Previously, members of the library's New Directions Task Force had also recommended that the city explore sites in the 800 and 1000 blocks of New Hampshire Street to accommodate a new 90,000- to 100,000-square-foot "destination" library.


City Commissioner David Schauner said he believed it made sense for the library to narrow its search.

"By taking that site and expanding on it, we don't leave an empty building for downtown to deal with," Schauner said. "I think that site provides a great opportunity to be an anchor for that end of downtown. And it is pretty clear that we need more parking there."

Specific plans to expand the library -- likely doubling its size from 45,000 square feet to at least 90,000 square feet -- haven't been developed. But commissioners on Tuesday night will be asked to hire Gould Evans Associates, a Lawrence-based architecture firm, to begin the plans.

Gould Evans would be responsible for creating several scenarios for an expanded library and parking garage. It also will explore possible public-private partnerships to help limit the amount of taxpayer dollars needed for the project, which could cost more than $10 million to build.

Library leaders are not seeking to put a price ceiling on the scope of projects that Gould Evans should examine.

"I don't think we want to inhibit their creativity," Flanders said. "It will be important for us to say bring us back a variety of options, but one of those options has to be a blue sky proposal. One of them has to be what would it take to make it the best library in the state of Kansas."

Private partners?

Flanders said Gould Evans would contact businesses and organizations in the area to judge the potential for public-private partnerships. Those entities include Eldridge Hotel, which could benefit from additional public parking in the area, and the U.S. Postal Service.

Flanders said the post office, which is adjacent to the library, could be redeveloped into residential or retail uses if the post office was willing to relocate its main branch. A smaller post office could be incorporated into the new library.

Flanders said consultants also may look at whether the new library could have enough meeting space to serve some of the city's convention center needs.

"That is thinking in very large terms, but I don't think it is outside the scope of the library," Flanders said. "If we could accommodate the occasional conference of 500 individuals, that would seem to create quite an economic benefit to the community."

21st century

Schauner said he would be willing for the consultants to study convention space as part of the library, but like Flanders, said it shouldn't be the driving force behind the project.

"We don't want to lose sight that our goal is to create a 21st-century library," Schauner said. "We're not here to build a new Weaver's or Gap or American Eagle. It would be nice if we could partner up and bring some private money to the table. But I don't want to take our eye off the ball."

If approved by commissioners, Gould Evans would be expected to complete the study by July 15. Flanders said the study is expected to cost $50,000.

Flanders said he hoped the City Commission would be in a position to choose a design option by the end of 2005. Flanders said 2006 likely would involve a lengthy community discussion that would culminate in a public referendum on whether the community was willing to fund a library expansion. If approved, construction likely would not begin before 2007.

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