FRONTENAC, Kan. — It was hoped that a final decision would be made at Monday evening’s Frontenac City Council meeting on the location of Frontenac’s new library and the project could move forward.
“As we discuss this, this is not about taking any binding action,” City Administrator John Zafuta said at the start of the meeting. “We have a long way to go, but we need a place for the new director to focus. The second thing is how much work do we need to put into this building, because it needs it. It’s getting pretty bad.”
Zafuta had already provided council members with a list of city properties that could serve as locations for the library. Also supplied were estimated costs for repairs and demolition.
The estimated cost to repair the current 2,800 square-foot building is $210,000, or about $75 per square foot. This does not include any remodel or upgrades, just fixing it. The estimate to demolish and remove it is between $45-50,000.
The city has been operating on the view that the new library would be built on the site of the town hall, which currently hosts a municipal court and city council meetings. Other city-owned properties were considered, but were deemed to be too far from the downtown area. Wanting to keep the library close to the city center, the town hall site, by default, became the most obvious to showcase the new building.
This proved to be more controversial than expected on Tuesday, when two prominent local business owners, Stephen Hipfl and Chris Falletti, pushed to save the town hall building. Once used as the Eagles’ Lodge, the building was sold to the city, and according to Falletti, a former member of the Lodge, with the understanding the building would not be demolished, although it was never promised.
Opponents favored expanding the downtown, to the west and south, buying whatever property necessary, preserving the town hall building as part of the city’s heritage, and creating a campus-like atmosphere around the library and town hall. The building could be repaired and given a face-lift to make it more visually appealing.
Councilmember Joe Martin said that purchasing land is spending tax dollars, something that the council was wanting to avoid by building on land already owned by the city.
If the library is built on the site of the town hall, there will be concern over where council meetings and municipal court hearings will be held. In previous meetings, the council felt that these could be moved to a new building near the law enforcement center.
Falletti said that is a “net-zero” gain to demolish the town hall and build a new one near a residential neighborhood. The city does not increase its downtown by doing so, Falletti said, so it’s not meeting its goal of expanding.
“We’ve had this money for two years and we need to get moving on building the library,” said Councilmember LaDonna Pyle. “That’s why we are looking at what we own right now so we can get this library built. We shouldn’t be buying land when we already have land.”
The council was pressed on how much work they have put in to exploring other options. Opponents wanted to know if the surrounding landowners have been approached about selling. One suggested putting the issue on the ballot for the upcoming election cycle, but City Clerk Jayme Mjelde said it is too late to add it for this cycle, meaning it would have to be a special election.
Martin and Councilmember Pat Clinton said they feel it is their job to make the decision. “We listen to our constituents and appreciate their opinion, but we were elected to make these decisions,” Clinton said.
“I’m going to make a motion to take a vote,” said Pyle. “I move that we build the library on this spot.”
Pyle was immediately met by a “Wow!” from the gallery and was quickly challenged on her motion. Opponents asked why she would call for a vote without exploring any other options and with no rendering of the library.
Pyle’s motion was not seconded.
After an executive session, the council approved a motion that Seth Nutt be appointed as library director.
“What’s our next step?” asked Joe Martin. “Do we start buying houses? Do we hire an architect? Let’s get an idea.”
The council discussed buying the properties adjacent to downtown, a move that Clinton was opposed to because buying property had never been discussed until now. The idea was always to build a new library using the grant, but save enough of it to create a fund that will make the library self-sufficient, city officials have said.
“Let’s look at the house,” said Mayor David Fornelli. “Let’s explore our options.”
In the end, the council decided to hire a project manager to consult and advise on matters of construction costs, site selection, and other matters that members of the council need clarified.
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