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Archive for Monday, September 19, 2005

Time to rethink

The future of the former Carnegie library building deserves another look.

September 19, 2005

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Lawrence city commissioners are right to put the future of the former Carnegie library building at Ninth and Vermont streets back on their agenda.

It has been almost a year and a half since the commission gave its support to a proposal to allow the Hughes Carnegie Center to occupy the building. The group supporting a center in honor of author Langston Hughes had grand visions of a facility that would provide a wide range of opportunities to promote literacy among people of all ages.

However, the group has failed to make any significant progress in getting organized or locating the grants on which it was depending to fund the center's operation. The only plans it has come up with include a considerable financial commitment from the city to support the effort.

The city can't afford to wait forever for the Hughes Carnegie Center to get off the ground, and it would be unwise to turn the building over to a group that has failed to prove it has a viable financial plan. Other possibilities have surfaced for the building, and commissioners are scheduled to review Tuesday the possibility of reopening discussions on the building.

The nonprofit Americana Music Academy asked the city in June to consider allowing it to use the building. Another possible use for the building would be as a focal point for the Bleeding Kansas and Enduring Freedom National Heritage Area. That project drew much closer to becoming a reality in July when a bill to give the historic designation to 26 Kansas counties was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawrence is at the heart of the proposal, and the former library building seems like a perfect spot for a center focusing on the area's pre-Civil War history.

And there may be other options the city hasn't considered. As they discuss the former library building, commissioners also must consider plans for a new, enlarged Lawrence Public Library. It has been suggested, for instance, that the Hughes literacy center might be folded into the new library's plans, freeing up the Carnegie building for another use.

The city has been taking responsible steps to update the building and prepare it for a new use. Commissioners last month approved a contract using grant money to pay for design work for a new elevator and other interior improvements to rest rooms and the building's mechanical and electrical systems.

The former library building has served this community well, first as a library and later as the home of the Lawrence Arts Center. City commissioners have a responsibility to make sure the building's next occupant is financially solid and an asset to the community.

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