Lawrence library visitors up 55 percent; city agrees to final library construction bill; solar panels installed at Prairie Park

Perhaps we all should have just read a book instead of watching Tuesday night’s KU-Kentucky game. Book club selections for last night’s game include: Stephen Covey’s Eight Habits of Highly Effective People. (The little known eighth habit is disabling the Kentucky Wildcats team bus prior to it ever reaching the arena.) I can’t attest to how many people were checking out books at the Lawrence Public Library last night, but there are new numbers out that show business is booming since the library moved into its new space.

If you remember, the library held its grand opening for a completely renovated facility at Seventh and Vermont streets in late July. As expected, lots of folks came through the doors in the days that followed just to check it out. (Opening Day attracted 12,000 people, and 150,000 people have visited since the doors opened July 26. ) But Library Director Brad Allen now has numbers for September 2014, and they show library attendance remains much higher than normal.

Library visits were up 55 percent in September compared to September 2013. About 40,000 people visited the library during the month. New users of the library grew by an even greater amount. The library issued 1,060 new borrower cards in September, up 96 percent from September 2013 totals.

Other numbers from September include:

• Attendance at youth programs was up 160 percent to about 2,600 for the month.

• Program attendance for all types of events was up 31 percent to about 3,400 people.

• The number of total items is up 10 percent to about 115,000 items.

• The number of youth items — books, DVDs, etc. — is up 24 percent to about 37,000 items.

So, the early returns indicate the number of kids using the library is up significantly. That’s what library officials had expected. The renovation project included much more space devoted to children and teen materials and activities.

• City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting took care of one major library project item. Commissioners agreed to the final total costs for the project. The final bill ended up raising fewer questions than the final bill for Rock Chalk Park, which also was on Tuesday’s night’s agenda.

That’s mainly because the library project was fairly traditional and followed a city bidding process, and the costs came in within original estimates. Sort of. The record will show that the city spent just under $18 million for the library project. That is the amount voters were told when they went to the polls to approve the project in 2010.

But this project is like many other things involving money: It depends on how you count it. (I count my money from afar, at my wife’s insistence.) Everything that you see at and around the new library project did cost more than $18 million. The total project cost $19.8 million, but about $835,000 of that amount is for an extra level that was added to the design of the parking garage following the 2010 library vote. Commissioners at the time said none of the library bond money would be used to cover those costs. Instead, city commissioners said they would pay for the garage through a combination of existing city funds and a special property tax assessment that will be placed on downtown property whose owners the city believes will benefit from extra parking.

The other piece of math to be aware of is that private donations through the library’s endowment fund are paying for about $1 million of the library costs. That also is what was presented to voters in 2010. So, when you deduct those two items from the project’s total, you come up with $17.94 million of money that was spent from the voter-approved library bond issue. The remaining $52,041 in the library bond fund will be set aside for future library maintenance, commissioners determined on Tuesday.

So, by using those calculations, the library project came in slightly under budget. But it’s worth noting that the project did end up costing a bit more than what was anticipated when the project was competitively bid. During the course of the project, city officials agreed to about $520,000 worth of change orders. Change orders typically are tweaks that are made to a project after construction has begun. You can see the entire list of change orders here, but most of them appear to be fairly technical items. In addition, city officials also agreed to spend about $170,000 on projects that were near the library but not really a part of the original project. That included traffic signal improvements near the library, additional street lights for the area, and even some new pavement work for the nearby Lawrence fire station, which city officials said could be done more cheaply because crews were already in the area. Those projects weren’t paid for through the $18 million voter-approved bond. They were paid for through other city funds.

In other news and notes from around town:

• If you head out to the city’s Prairie Park Nature Center anytime soon, you may notice some construction work. Crews with Lawrence-based Good Energy Solutions are installing an array of solar panels on the roof of the facility, 2730 Harper.

As we previously have reported, the project was selected as part of a grant program sponsored by Westar Energy. The grant aims to educate the public about the benefits of solar energy and place solar panels in places where the public can see them in action. (In fairness, solar panels are kind of like last night’s version of the Jayhawks: They’re not much to look at, and they shoot a really low field goal percentage.) The project, though, does include a kiosk where visitors can see how the solar panels work and how much energy they are producing at any moment. City officials also are excited about the potential cost savings the panels will provide. They’re estimating the panels will reduce energy costs by about 20 percent, or about $1,300 a year.

Under the terms of the grant, Westar is paying for the full cost of the panels and their installation.