Merriam leaders approve outline of agreement that would bring new Antioch branch to Vavra Park land

Merriam and the library are looking at options for rebuilding the Antioch branch on the site of the new Merriam community and aquatic center.

Merriam city leaders are moving forward with plans to transfer a portion of the land at Vavra Park to the Johnson County Library for use as the site of a new building next to the new community center.

On a 6-0 vote Monday, the Merriam council approved a memorandum of understanding to convey the land to the library for $1, the first step in a formal, months-long process that could end in the library’s acquisition of the property for a new Antioch branch.

Nancy Hupp recused herself from voting and discussion because of her dual connection to the issue as both a councilmember and chair of the Johnson County Library Board of Directors. Councilmember Robert Weems was absent.

Before the council voted, assistant city administrator Meredith Hauck said the memorandum of understanding “just sets the framework” for the formal agreements that will take place in the months to come.

“In addition to this agreement, we’ll be back with the property conveyance agreement which will actually outline the specific details of the property conveyance and have more information than just the MOU,” Hauck said. “Once we have passed that, closer to the date that the library will open, we will be back again to adopt a shared parking and maintenance agreement.”

Library hopes to build 16,000 square foot facility on land

The proposed site layout for the projects.

Merriam staff and city leaders have been discussing the possibility of relocating the Antioch library to Vavra Park as part of the new community center campus since spring 2017. The community center campus will also have a two-story parking garage next to the new library.

Some key points to the memorandum of understanding include:

  • Johnson County Library intends to build a 16,000-square-foot library branch that will be both open to the public as well as architecturally compatible with other buildings on site.
  • Merriam and Johnson County Library will utilize shared parking and determine an annual payment for that in future.
  • Merriam and the Johnson County Library must bring forward a property conveyance agreement within 180 days of entering the memorandum of understanding and that closing of the sale will take place in 2021. As part of the property conveyance agreement, Merriam will sell land to Johnson County Library for $1.

Councilmember David Neal raised some concerns before he gave his approval for the memorandum. Recognizing that the memorandum establishes the framework of future agreements, Neal thinks the memorandum should include a mechanism for the city to retain control of the property if Johnson County Library decided to move off the new Antioch library off campus in the future. He also thinks the city should encourage a hard deadline for the library to complete construction in a reasonable timely fashion.

Mayor Ken Sissom said he thinks it is unlikely that Johnson County Library will choose to move off campus in the future, considering the Antioch library’s history in Merriam since the 1950s.

Merriam resident Sam Matier spoke against the memorandum, citing one of three planned petitions circulating the city that would halt the processes surrounding the new community center — including the new library and parking structure. Matier said one of the petitions calls for a public vote before Merriam can offer city land to the Johnson County Library. In fact, the petition would prevent the sale of any part of Vavra Park for any other purpose.

“That will be coming, and I would think that would override any MOU that takes place tonight,” Matier said. “I would also hope that you would vote no to this MOU because the whole concept is against what the public wants. I think this is a mistake for the city.”

The memorandum awaits approval from the Johnson County Library Board of Directors.