After considerable activity a year or two ago, the idea of expanding the Lawrence Public Library has come to a virtual standstill.
It's understandable that members of the library board of trustees are growing impatient with the lack of direction they are receiving concerning the library's future. The board is seeking to remedy that situation today in a study session with Lawrence city commissioners.
Specifically, the board has asked the commission and city staff for a timeline for a decision on putting library expansion plans to a public vote. That would bring some closure to the issue, but such a vote seems unlikely in the near future.
First, there seems to be little consensus from the commission about the library's future. A review of the library expansion project reveals some of the mixed messages that have been sent by commissioners.
In 2001, library officials proposed and received commission support to extend library services through branch locations. Two years later, however, commissioners shifted gears, scrapped the branch plans and said the expansion project should be focused on downtown Lawrence.
In 2006, commissioners optimistically invited private developers to submit plans for a library expansion. The plans that were submitted were large - and expensive. The commission evaluated the plans and expressed a preference for a plan that would relocate the post office at 645 Vt. and expand the library at its current site. But how to pay for it?
In the current climate, it seems unlikely that Lawrence voters would approve a large bond issue for a library project. At one point, funding the library was part of the mission for an increased sales tax, but that idea seems to have slipped off the table.
During this year's City Commission election campaign, some candidates brought the discussion full circle by once again saying satellite library locations might be the answer.
It's easy to see why the library board is seeking direction from commissioners. To that end, it has given commissioners four library alternatives: maintain the status quo with annual funding, pursue satellite branch options, build a new downtown library as an independent city project or build a library on or near the present site using public money to leverage private funding for the project.
Given the recent budget discussions, it's hard to see how commissioners can commit right now to anything beyond the status quo. Grander plans that include additional computer access and public meeting space may be in the library's long-range future, but that can't happen until the city and its commissioners reach some consensus on what new library facilities the city wants and how we plan to pay for it.