Leaders of the Lawrence Public Library want to ask voters in November for a property tax increase to fund an $18 million expansion of its downtown facility.
Library director Bruce Flanders said the library board soon will ask city commissioners for a November ballot question that would allow the library to add up to 20,000 square feet to its building at Seventh and Vermont streets.
“The library board doesn’t take this lightly, given the economic environment we are in now,” Flanders said. “We really wrestled with it, but in a down economy, library usage is way up. We want to be able to more fully serve the community because people need the library more than ever.”
City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the project next Tuesday when they begin conversations about the 2011 budget.
“It is like anything else right now,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. “Going out to sell any type of tax increase is a little bit tough, but when you are trying to sell it for something that is extremely well run and provides a great service, I think it is something people will support.”
Specific plans for an expansion — which likely would add to the south side of the building — have not been designed, but Flanders said any plan would include several key additions, such as:
• A doubling in space for the library’s children’s room.
• An increase of about two times the space for community meeting rooms.
• Significant new areas for at least 95 additional public computers.
• A single-story parking structure that would be built above the current parking lot. The current proposal is to lower the existing lot to be level with Kentucky street, which runs along the west edge of the library. The new parking lot would be built above the current lot and would be level with Vermont Street, which runs along the east edge of the library.
• A conversion of parallel parking spaces into angled parking spaces on portions of Vermont and Seventh streets.
In total, Flanders is estimating all the parking changes would result in about 52 additional parking spaces for the area.
“This is probably a partial solution for our parking,” Flanders said. “But we also need to realize that as Lawrence grows, we will not always have door-front parking available for everything in our community.”
A larger parking structure greatly would have added to the cost of any project, Flanders said.
At an estimated cost of $18 million, the proposed project would add about 2 mills to the city’s property tax rate. About 1.5 mills would be needed for 20 years to pay for the construction of the project. An additional 0.5 mill would be needed in perpetuity to fund increased operating costs for a larger library.
A mill is $1 in property tax for every $1,000 in assessed valuation. On a $200,000 home, a 2-mill increase would amount to $46 in new taxes for the year.
Flanders said library board members believe the timing for the project is right because library usage has soared as the economy has soured. Patrons checked out 1.3 million items in 2009, which was up 11 percent from the previous year. That growth rate also was higher than the historical increase of about 8 percent per year.
If commissioners approve the library’s request, the issue would be on the Nov. 2 ballot. Flanders said commissioners could approve the project without a referendum, but the library board believes a public vote is important.
“We feel this is a more open, public way to go about it,” Flanders said.