KENNETT SQUARE>> Borough officials will vote Monday on whether to partner on a $15 million community center that would house the Kennett Library, Kennett Square police and Kennett Square borough offices.
At a public meeting this week, council mulled three options – all in, minimal involvement, or to do nothing. The 45,000 square-foot building would be constructed on the Weinstein lot, just west of the Kennett Area YMCA.
The borough’s share would be $6.5 million in construction and another $500,000 in soft costs. It would cost the borough about $386,000 per year for 25 years at 3.5 percent. However, the borough has $1.4 million in assets it could use toward the project, including the borough building and the police building.
But if the borough decides to partner with the Kennett Library minimally, it would cost $5 million in construction costs and $400,000 in soft costs. Over 25 years, it would cost $293,000 per year at 3.5 percent interest. This option eliminates a 300-seat auditorium.
The borough building and police station need about $300,000 in repairs over the next three to five years. It would cost borough officials $7.35 million to build its own facility.
Geoff Bosley, who heads up the borough’s finance committee, said the borough can go all in, and it will not involve a tax increase.
“I think this is a terrific idea,” he said. “This is about creating a community center – a meeting place – and hopefully this will become the number one most important building in our town. This sets us up for the next 50 to 75 years. Think of the benefits this will do for our community.”
Bosley said the borough has reduced its debt in the past few years, and there are additional savings not dialed into the equation, including energy savings, potential grants, and revenue on borough buildings that will be put on the tax parcel.
“All the way around, this makes a lot of sense,” Bosley said. “We have one shot to do this, and we have to do it right.”
Dan Maffei, council president, said he too favors partnering with the library.
“Not considering this would be shortsighted of us,” he said. “I think we would end up being penny wise and pound foolish. It’s a long known truth that the people in this town want the library in town. The time is not. We should seriously consider the all-in option. Half-way participation based on potential savings is also short-sighted.”
Mayor Matt Fetick said not doing the project would be irresponsible of council.
“If this project can be done without raising taxes, it’s irresponsible not to do it,” he said. “If we can do it within our means, and existing revenues, without accounting for one grant dollar, it’s irresponsible not to do this project.”
Fetick said the auditorium can be flex space, and can be used by non-profits who currently have to meet out of town. He said the borough can charge a fee to for-profits which could offset maintenance and power costs.
“This is a real win for everybody,” Fetick said. “It’s a win for our community, it’s a win for our library, and I think we will leave a lasting legacy that will last for 40, 50 or 60 years, long after we are all gone, that it was money well spent. I don’t take debt for the borough lightly in any way, shape or form.”
However, Councilman Wayne Braffman doubted the borough can take on the project without hiking taxes.
“It’s disingenuous,” he said. “Even if we can find a lot of money in the budget, we may need to raise taxes in five years.”
Braffman said he likes the idea, and offered other cost-saving options.
Councilor LaToya Myers said taking on debt may be bad news for the poorer people in town. She said she knows of many people, especially seniors, living on the edge and even a modest tax hike would force them out of their homes.
Councilor Ethan Cramer said he has been grappling with the issue in what he called the biggest decision of his life.
“This is not an issue of whether we support the library,” he said. “The library is an incredible asset to our town. “We need to do our due diligence. I haven’t made up my mind, and have to take a look at the numbers.”
Jeff Yetter, a member of the library’s board of directors, said he was “disappointed” by borough officials’ conversation, and added that any amendments made to the plan will involve more negotiations. The library’s board, he said, is ready to move now on the plan, and get the contract signed with the architect.
“We’re looking for an answer so we can move forward,” he said. “We had momentum, but now we are losing momentum. We are getting a new library, but we’d love to have you partner with us.”
Yetter said a University of North Carolina study showed that every dollar invested in public libraries returns $5.50 to the municipality in terms of economic development. The community center auditorium could be a boon to local merchants if it was rented out for conventions and other events.
The library portion will cost about $9 million, meaning about $7 million must be raised because the library has $2 million in assets which include land it owns just outside the borough.
The library would own the top two floors of the building, and the borough would own the bottom floor which would house the police station and borough offices. The police department would have a secure elevator from the underground parking garage. Library patrons will never see police activity.
A new library is needed in part, because the eight municipalities it serves – Kennett Square, East Marlborough, Kennett Township, Newlin, New Garden, Pennsbury, West Marlborough and Pocopson – will see a large spike in population in coming years. According to studies, the population of the eight municipalities the library serves will increase from 44,000 to 50,000 in the next 10 years.
If borough officials agree to a memorandum of agreement on June 5, the stage would be set for construction of the new community center. Pending a successful capital campaign drive by the library, construction could begin by late next year.