Path to new library center gets illuminated

Lots of natural light, flexible meeting spaces, ample parking, and automatic doors dominated the wish lists for the few dozen people who took advantage of a recent opportunity to discuss their hopes for a new library.

Greg Lukmire (left) and Toni Garvey confer prior to a wrap-up on the sessions aimed at soliciting feedback about a new library center.

Greg Lukmire (left) and Toni Garvey confer prior to a wrap-up on the sessions aimed at soliciting feedback about a new library center.

In June, the Kennett Library Board of Trustees received approval from the eight municipalities it serves – Kennett Square Borough and East Marlborough, Kennett, Newlin, New Garden, Pennsbury, Pocopson, and West Marlborough townships – to determine the feasibility of combining borough and library functions in one new building.

The possibility of capitalizing on economy of scale made sense since both entities need to expand, officials said. Growth has outpaced the present library location in the 200 block of East State Street in Kennett Square, and the board hired Lukmire Partnership, an architecture firm that specializes in building libraries, to assess the requirements for a new library building, including the efficacy of sharing space with the borough. The study will be funded in part through a Vision Partnership Program grant from Chester County.

On Thursday, Oct. 13, Greg Lukmire and Toni Garvey, a former librarian and consultant for Providence Associates, led a daylong series of sessions aimed at soliciting feedback. The response was sparser than they would have liked, but Lukmire said it represented a good start.

Moreover, it marked the beginning of a process expected to take several months. At an evening wrap-up session attended by about a dozen residents and four board members, Lukmire said the team would also be seeking feedback through email and paper surveys and would be holding similar “wish-list” sessions at a variety of venues.

In the process, Lukmire said they would be developing an assessment of the space needs as well as ways to ensure that the new community center, which he called a “quality of life facility,” matches the culture.

The Kennett Library has outgrown its building on East State Street in downtown Kennett Square.

The Kennett Library has outgrown its building on East State Street in downtown Kennett Square.

In response to a resident’s question about free parking, Jeff Yetter, the board’s vice president, said there’s no such thing. He explained that adding parking spaces would increase the project’s cost by about $1 million. “We would love it to be free,” he said. “If you know someone who wants to provide free parking, send them our way.”

Another resident questioned why the current building couldn’t just be expanded. “It’s more expensive to renovate,” Lukmire responded, referencing the costly changes that would be needed to add another floor. In addition, the present library is not ADA compliant, which would involve pricy retrofitting.

Bill McLachlan, the library board’s treasurer, added that the library’s 1961 HVAC system is failing and that the dark, dreary building is not conducive to learning.

“It was built for the way we did libraries in 1961,” said Garvey. “It’s not at all efficient.”

The building is also not warm and welcoming, its users acknowledge. Board member Carolyn Nicander Mohr said many residents expressed interest in a library that features lots of natural light. Lukmire said that preference would also translate to energy savings.

Another compelling reason for a new building involves population growth, said Yetter. “Our area is exploding,” he said, citing 1,000 new homes in the library’s coverage area that are already on the drawing board.

Several residents expressed concerns about cost, suggesting that seeing sleek examples of what other libraries have done makes it tempting to seek all the latest amenities. They include features such as art galleries, machines that provide the equivalent of a library Red Box, or automated book check-in systems.

Lukmire said such fears would be addressed during the feasibility study. He said some communities opt to do a phased project while others use an approach tied to their needs and finances: “This is my budget; what can I do?”

For that reason, it’s important to get as much feedback as possible so it can be balanced with the realities of the space and the funding, he said.

Board member Brad Peiper suggested that those who don’t patronize the library need to make their voices heard. “What is it that would excite them?” he asked.

For more information about the Kennett Library, call 610-444-2702 or visit http://www.KennettLibrary.org.

 

 

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About Kathleen Brady Shea

Kathleen Brady Shea, a nearly lifelong area resident, has been reporting on local news for several decades, including 19 years at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She believes that journalists provide a vital watchdog service in the community, and she embraces that commitment. In addition to unearthing news, she also enjoys digging up dirt in her garden, a hobby that frequently fosters Longwood Gardens envy. Along with her husband, Pete, she lives in a historic residence near the Brandywine Battlefield, a property that is also home to a sheep, a goat, and a passel of fish.

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