LOUISBURG — Louisburg Library District No. 1 board members are still working out the details of a new library proposal, but there’s one thing they now do know for sure — they want district voters to have the final say.
During their latest meeting, Thursday, Nov. 21, board members unanimously voted to take the lease-purchase option off the table and focus on a bond proposal that will eventually be placed before voters.
Earlier this year, the board members self-authorized themselves to research the lease-purchase option, which would have allowed the board to increase the library district’s mill levy and construct a new library without first getting approval from voters.
That possibility prompted a room full of local residents to attend the May board meeting and listen to former state Sen. Pat Apple speak out against the lease-purchase option.
“This is a more expensive option and will require the property taxpayers to pay more than the method that is typically used, which is to hold an election and sell the bonds,” Apple told the board members in May. “But most importantly, this has the possibility to bypass the ballot box and not allow the voters, who are also taxpayers, a guaranteed say in the process.”
Board members agreed, during their Nov. 21 meeting, that a bond election is the best way to proceed.
It will be the third time the library district has turned to voters to help fund a new library.
In 2008, the bond proposal was $6.9 million for 29,000 square feet. The issue failed by 158 votes.
In 2015, the bond proposal was $4.25 million for 18,500 square feet. The issue failed by 104 votes.
The library is currently located at 206 S. Broadway St. in downtown Louisburg. The library has occupied the 9,200-square-foot building since 1979, and it was last renovated in 2004. Library personnel have reported a variety of issues with the building, including flooding and space limitations.
Previously, the library board proposed building on property already owned by the library on Harvest Drive near Louisburg High School and the water tower. That location is still a prime option for the next bond proposal, but other sites also are being considered.
During their October meeting, library board members reviewed the pros and cons of three potential sites during a presentation by Sabatini Architects of Lawrence.
The library board recently hired Sabatini Architects to provide architectural assistance thanks to help from the Northeast Kansas Library System (NEKLS), which is covering the first $2,800. After that, the library district will pick up the cost on an hourly basis.
Two of the three proposed sites presented by Sabatini Architects are located along Harvest Drive. One is on 3.27 acres, or 142,440 square feet, of vacant library-owned property next to the Louisburg Post Office.
Some of the listed pros of that site are that it’s close to schools, future expansion is possible, it’s adjacent to new and growing neighborhoods and it’s visible from Kansas Highway 68.
Some of the listed cons of that site are that it’s not downtown, the current building would be vacated, after-school traffic could become an issue, children coming from downtown would have to cross Metcalf Road, larger parking lots and roads would add cost and there could be a higher property tax.
The other proposed site on Harvest Drive is the vacant strip mall just north of the Louisburg Post Office. The site covers 2.84 acres, or 123,442 square feet, and the existing building is 23,082 square feet.
The site shares many of the same pros as the other Harvest Drive location, as well as the fact that it would be utilizing an existing building, there is an abundance of space, it’s close to restaurants, most of the building has not been occupied, it’s adjacent to land already owned by the library and all infrastructure, utilities and parking already exist.
The site also shares many of the cons of the other Harvest Drive location, as well as limited visibility, ramps and steps are likely, the building and parking lot are in poor condition, the building must be purchased and the existing structure has limited design potential.
Sabatini also proposed a downtown site that would be located on 1.32 acres, or 57,600 square feet, about one block northwest of the existing library, near where the Louisburg Farmers Market sets up.
Some of the listed pros of that site are that it’s downtown, there’s co-programming opportunities with the current space, street parking is available and it would be closer to lower-income families who utilize the free summer lunch program.
Some of the listed cons of that site are limited space, future expansion is limited, it’s surrounded by streets on all sides, it’s not close to schools, it’s not visible from Kansas Highway 68 and it may need an elevator.
The estimated project costs of the three sites are similar, with the vacant library-owned ground on Harvest Drive being the most expensive at $4,594,200 with an option for a future expansion totaling $1,950,000.
The estimated cost for the vacant strip mall location is $4,348,480, and the estimated cost for the downtown location is $4,153,200.
Sabatini also presented some options for the current library building, including turning it into a small business incubator on the first floor with residential units on the second floor for a total renovation cost of $740,000.
During the Nov. 21 meeting, library board president Devin Cooley said Sabatini recently sent a proposal stating that it would be willing to help inform the community about the options leading up to a potential bond election. The proposal mentioned organizing one to two community-sized informational workshops, as well as a handful of smaller workshops with groups like the Louisburg school board. The total cost, though, would be $13,450.
The board members agreed to make a decision on Sabatini’s proposal during their next meeting, which will be Thursday, Jan. 23. The board members also would like to establish a timeline at that meeting, including when is the best time for a bond election.
The board members did not like the idea of going to voters in April, when the school district is proposing a bond of its own, or in November, when there will be a national presidential election.
Library Director Kiersten Allen said a special election can be conducted at any time as long as it is at least 90 days before or after another election.
There are a few new faces on the library board that will be making the decisions as the calendar prepares to turn over to 2020. Michael Pickman recently joined the board after Bryce Smith’s resignation, and Janet Houchen recently joined the board, as well.
Cooley announced, during the Nov. 21 meeting, that board secretary Joann Hook also has resigned, and he asked for recommendations for potential replacements. Houchen recommended Pat Apple, who has attended all of the recent meetings.
Apple said he is interested, but he’s not sure this is the appropriate time to join the board. Apple recently contacted Miami County Attorney Elizabeth Sweeney-Reeder regarding possible violations of the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) and Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) by the Louisburg Library District No. 1 board.
Apple expressed concerns about the board entering into executive sessions earlier this year to discuss the lease-purchase option outside of the public eye. He also said the board will not create a meeting notification list and provide full agenda packets for community members who would like to receive the information.
Sweeney-Reeder confirmed that she is investigating the board, and she hopes to have a decision within a couple of weeks. The maximum fine is $500 per violation, she said.
“If a finding is made that KOMA was violated, there is a range of consequences from acknowledgment of a violation, to mandatory training, to a case being filed in District Court which could result in fines and/or voiding any illegal actions,” Sweeney-Reeder said.
Before the start of the January meeting, the library board members are scheduled to go through KOMA training with Sweeney-Reeder. She also was in attendance during the Nov. 21 meeting.
No official decision was made at the November meeting regarding Hook’s replacement, and Cooley said a replacement would be appointed during the January meeting. The board members agreed to have Houchen take over as secretary.
Other library board members include vice president Steve Fike, treasurer Courtney Allen and trustee Merilyn Kelly.