A new master plan for the Johnson County Library system recommended the rebuilding or renovating of both the Cedar Roe and Antioch libraries on their current sites. But that recommendation did not make it unscathed past the library board. Several board members stated their desire to see the two libraries combined.
The plan also contains a recommendation that the Corinth library be replaced on its current site. That portion of the proposal did not draw opposition.
The plan has been months in the making and residents in northeast Johnson County have lobbied to keep Cedar Roe and Antioch branches in place. The idea of combining the two libraries, potentially on a new site, was part of a much older facilities recommendation from several years ago.
When the consulting firm Group4 presented the plan to the library board Thursday afternoon, it contained the recommendation that no current library buildings be closed. The report suggested some new facilities be built, including a new operations center, to keep the library space proportional to the population growth that the county will experience over the next 20 years.
The consultants said the plan would modernize libraries in the northeast and southwest parts of the county and that the northeast had plenty of capacity to renovate or replace facilities at their current size. The report recommended adding space to the southeast and northwest parts of the county with new branches.
Board member Pamela Robinson, though said she was “on the fence” about the report because it did not recommend combining Antioch and Cedar Roe. “I don’t think we have investigated that enough,” she said. The combination would save $6 million, Robinson said. “It’s all in how we message.”
Board member Mitra Templin also supported combining the two libraries. “I understand the passion and desire to have it, but also the huge cost savings.”
“I don’t want to create a firestorm,” Robinson said, but said the libraries are within two miles of each other. “We have to look at this as a system.” Board member John Nelson said he also agreed with combining the two branches.
Nancy Hupp, the board member who represents northeast Johnson County, defended the recommendation. The land had been given specifically for libraries, she said. “We owe it to those communities to keep a library there.”
Library Board chair Neil Shortlidge, who also is city attorney for Roeland Park, also defended the recommendation. “I think we have heard loud and clear from those communities,” he said. “They don’t want the fancy new library, they want those modernized.”
Jason Osterhaus, the county commissioner who is liaison to the board, encouraged board members “to look at what is best for the community.”
The board did adopt the report, but with an additional caveat that it will have flexibility on the recommendations. Templin had proposed language saying flexibility specifically about combining Cedar Roe and Antioch, but Hupp asked that it be just generic flexibility, which was agreed upon.