City seeks new purpose for old library | gas

A building in downtown Emporia with more than 115 years of history is once again at a crossroads.

The Emporia City Commission this week received a detailed report on four main options for the old Carnegie Library on East Sixth Avenue between Mechanic and Market Streets.

In recent years, the city has had trouble finding residents for it.

“Mainly because of the condition of the building,” Kevin Hanlin, director of the municipal facility, said in a study session. “It has so many limitations… There are some environmental issues. … Water got in.”

Manhattan-based BG Consultants studied the Keystone Community Building from multiple perspectives for about six months.

“The building appears to be in solid condition, with deterioration in finished materials,” architect Clint Hibbs told the commission. “With the right investment, the building can be used in a variety of ways and its useful life can be extended.”

The 124-page report by BG Consultants came to four possible conclusions:

Leave the building as it is, with no improvements.

Mothball it for several years. “Moth mothballing preserves the building…so the decay doesn’t continue,” Hibbs explained when the city doesn’t know what to do with it.

Rebuild and repair it to meet current code requirements and extend its useful life.

The building will be repurposed through a comprehensive conversion. Proposals in the report include making everything from a fire station to a bed and breakfast.

According to Hibbs, the mothballing option would take about six months and cost the city $264,000. A full remodel could cost $1.3 million, while the repurposing option would cost more than $3 million.

Neither option suggests demolishing the building because it is on the National Register of Historic Places.

But Hanlin pointed out that any renovation would require the old library to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Then there are other problems.

“We have a building with no parking,” Vice Mayor Danny Giefer responded to the report. “Whatever we make of it, it has no parking. … [It’s] a building surrounded on three sides by municipal property.”

Parking probably wasn’t a big problem when the old library was built. But history shows that its location was.

Hibbs said the Carnegie Library was built in 1905. This was followed by years of arguments over whether to place it at 118 E. Sixth Avenue or Fifth and Constitution, a debate that ended in court.

The grand opening took place on Thursday, February 22, 1906. In fact, it was the second Carnegie library in the city, as the old College of Emporia also had one.

“The beauty of the interior will grow in people as they get used to it,” says an article in the Gazette.

The site, on land donated by Carrie Plumb, was just right for a public library. The BG Consultants report states that by 1917 a branch office was needed. However, Emporia carried out the construction work until 1979, when the current library opened next door.

The Lyon County Historical Society called the building their home from 1980 to 2016. Giefer believes it has occasionally been used as a warehouse since then.

The city replaced the building’s roof in 2008. Then around 2016, the city performed tuckpointing and repaired mortar joints in the brick.

Commissioner Susan Brinkman said it wasn’t a good idea to consult the historical society about the building now.

“Those are the last people we should be asking,” she said.

Mayor Becky Smith agreed. She tends to mothball approach.

“We should manage our own building well and make sure it’s solid,” she said. She wondered aloud if an organization might be interested in buying it.

“I’m a bit reluctant to spend money on it if we don’t have a plan of what to do with it,” Giefer said.

He added that spending money to mothball it would only “allow us to kick the can out into the street… We have to exhaust all options before mothballing it.”

The meeting agreed on one point: the three commissioners present wanted the two absent to take part in the discussion. That could be the case at the end of April.

“We need five votes,” Brinkman said.

Giefer is now also concerned about the growing interest in the existing library. He thinks there is a shortage of parking spaces there.

“It could be three times the size it is today and not have enough seats,” Giefer said.


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