Merriam approves transferring property to Johnson County Library to build Antioch branch on community center campus

Merriam Councilmember Nancy Hupp shared her confidence in the agreement between the city and Johnson County Library to build the Antioch library branch on the community center campus.

Merriam has taken the next steps to transfer ownership of property on the new community center campus to the Johnson County Library as part of the library’s plans to locate the Antioch library branch on site.

The property conveyance agreement approved by the city of Merriam this week outlines the following:

  • An anticipated timeline for construction and opening
  • Permission for Merriam to use the property as open space until library construction begins
  • Shared maintenance and ongoing use of shared infrastructure on site (plaza area between buildings, parking structure, internal access roads)
Meredith Hauck, assistant city administrator of Merriam, led discussions on Monday about the property conveyance agreement.

In the Merriam council meeting on Monday, Meredith Hauck, assistant city administrator, said the property conveyance agreement formalizes the intents of the city and library as set out in the memorandum of understanding signed in January 2019.

Merriam city staff noted that the city and library will negotiate specific details of ongoing maintenance and use in the next agreement, a parking and maintenance agreement, which must be finalized, negotiated and agreed to 90 days before closing.

Johnson County Library has budgeted a total project cost of $13.6 million for the Antioch Library.

“I will tell you, being in the room, part of the conversation working with the library team, this is moving forward at a pretty steady and committed pace,” Hauck said.

Johnson County Library will also construct portions of the plaza that will be on or next to their property.

The anticipated timeline for the library project indicates that the library intends to close on the property in mid-2021. Construction would begin at the end of 2021, and the library would open in the first quarter of 2023.

Agreement between Merriam and library stands on ‘good faith’

Merriam Councilmember David Neal raised concerns about the property conveyance agreement with Johnson County Library and ultimately voted against it.

The Merriam council voted 7-1 to approve the property conveyance agreement. Councilmember David Neal, who cast the dissenting vote, said he needed more time to review the agreement and had a few concerns. Namely, he wanted to ensure the city maintains control over the community center campus, especially in the event the library did not follow through with its end of the agreement.

“One of the things that’s important in an agreement is, everybody when they’re starting it assumes that we’re all on the same page and everything looks great, but you have to build in some contingencies if something changes,” Neal said. “So to protect the interest of the stakeholders of Merriam, I’m kind of concerned about that one.”

Hauck said the MOU addresses those concerns because both parties must operate in good faith they will hold up their end of the agreement.

Councilmember Scott Diebold said the agreement allows for checks and balances for both parties. He added that the library should be allowed to investigate the site before closing.

The library has raised concerns about the site in the past. Hauck said that by the time the MOU was approved, the city and library had resolved those issues together.

Councilmember Nancy Hupp, former chair of the library board, said Neal is “trying to overthink” the agreement. She added the library has experience working with Shawnee (Monticello Library) and Lenexa (City Center Library), and “it works out” in the end.

“I have no concerns with this; I know that both staffs and legal teams have looked at this long and hard,” Hupp said. “This is not at all unusual. I’ve seen it with the other two cities. It does work out.”

Councilmember Jason Silvers and Merriam resident Billy Crook asked if the city would acquire a right of first refusal provision — that in the event the library decides to sell the property in the future, then Merriam could buy it back. The city council went forward with the agreement without including this provision. Hauck noted the agreement was based on good faith and cooperation that the project would move forward. Plus, the city would have the opportunity to buy back the property in the future.

The Johnson County Library Board of Directors will review the property conveyance agreement on Thursday and then consider it for approval in a meeting in October.

Community center taking shape

In related news, city staff reported on Monday that construction is about halfway complete on the new community center. The building itself is starting to take shape, the outdoor pool is being excavated, grading for access roads is underway, and finishing touches are being placed on the parking garage.

Up next will be development of the gym and the addition of windows. The goal is to have the building closed in by Thanksgiving. City staff are spending time on the details and soft costs of the community center, including information technology, Wi-Fi, furnishings and furniture, and equipment.

Hauck said the project is on schedule and on budget, even though the weather has been particularly rainy. She also collected suggestions from councilmembers on items to include in a time capsule, including a piece of the Irene B. French Community Center and a 2020 Merriam calendar.