Lawrence City Commission to consider construction bid to renovate old Carnegie Library

The architect's rendering of the proposed renovations to the former Carnegie Library building.

For $1.4 million, the old Carnegie Library may become a focal point of downtown Lawrence again.

City commissioners on Tuesday will consider accepting a $1.4 million construction bid to make the 107-year old building at Ninth and Vermont streets accessible to people with disabilities so that it can be used as a public meeting place and as offices for the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

“I’m excited about moving forward on it,” Mayor Rob Chestnut said. “I think that building really represents one of the more important historic structures in the city.”

The project involves adding 2,000 square feet to the building — in a portion of an adjacent city parking lot — to primarily house restrooms and an elevator.

Once work is completed — perhaps in about six months — the basement level of the building could be used as offices for the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and as the headquarters for the new Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. The main floor would become new space for Lawrence Parks and Recreation to rent out for receptions, or to use for classes such as aerobics, dance or other programs that have grown in recent years.

“We think it could be a boost for downtown,” said Ernie Shaw, the city’s interim director of parks and recreation. “It will be just a block away from Mass. Street.”

Shaw said he thinks the space has a lot of potential for wedding receptions and various reunions, much like the city-operated Union Pacific Depot site in North Lawrence. But the new Carnegie space will be about twice as large and will be able to host events of about 150 people.

“We probably turn away about 100 events a year from the depot because it isn’t large enough,” Shaw said.

Chestnut said he’s also supportive of the project because it gives the national heritage area the space it needs to begin growing its programing and fundraising efforts.

The project to revamp the Carnegie — which has been vacant since the Lawrence Arts Center moved from the building in 2002 — has been in the works for more than two years.

Chestnut, though, said the project now may become a reality because the city has identified a source of funding for the renovations. As part of the 2010 budget, commissioners approved a 1 percent increase in the city’s guest tax. That increase will generate $500,000 over 10 years. A previous city commission had set aside about $450,000 for the project, and the city also has about $100,000 from a previously awarded federal grant. The remainder of the money will come from city reserve funds.

Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.