Now that the plan to construct a multi-purpose civic center in Kennett Square is dead, Kennett Square Council is considering a request from officials at the Kennett Library to sell land Kennett Square owns in the center of town “at a reasonable cost.”
Council recently agreed to partner with the Kennett Library on a $15 million facility that would have housed the library, the Kennett Square Police Department and the borough offices. Officials said at the time that the project can be done without raising taxes. But the deal fell apart when some councilors changed so many terms of the original recommendations in the Visioning Study that the library’s board of directors rejected it.
So now the library is looking to build a new facility. It owns land valued at about $900,000 just outside of town on Way’s Lane. But library officials want to build the new library in the borough, preferably in the center of town. The Weinstein lot, located on State Street, off South Willow Street, just west of the Kennett Area YMCA. Kennett Square owns this lot, and it is waiting on an official appraisal of the land.
Construction of the new Kennett Library will cost about $10 million, and right now the plans call for inclusion of a community center, which adds about $2 million to the cost. Library officials will need a successful capital campaign, perhaps a grant or two, and generous donations from the community. We have no doubt that the money will be raised. The borough sorely needs an updated, high-tech facility. And survey after survey indicates the community wants that library to be located in Kennett Square.
Before anything can start, library officials need to know where it will be built. And the 22,000-square-foot Weinstein lot is ideal.
“We ask that you sell the library the Weinstein property for the lowest possible price,” said Tom Swett, chairman of the Kennett Library board of directors at Monday’s council meeting. “A very affordable price will enable us to raise less money and get started building the new library sooner.”
We think the council should sell the library the land for $1.
We understand the council is stewards of taxpayer money. An argument can be made that if the land is valued at $300,000 or $400,000 or whatever -- the money raised can go toward paying down the debt, or put to some other use to improve the town. Councilor Geoff Bosley, who sits on the finance committee, and others on council have made great strides over the past few years to pay down debt big time. This means that future tax increases could be kept in check.
But council must understand that the library is one of its largest assets. The library attracts hundreds of thousands of people per year. This foot traffic greatly benefits the many businesses in town. Vibrant and up-to-date libraries are the hub of any successful small town in America.
And studies have shown that a new library drives economic growth. The Kennett Library served 130,000 people last year, and the library’s board is expecting that number to double with construction of a new library.
The library serves eight municipalities -- Kennett Square , East Marlborough, Kennett Township, Newlin, New Garden, Pennsbury, West Marlborough and Pocopson. Kennett Square should be ashamed that they are not the largest financial contributor to the library -- Kennett Township is. A donation of the land would be a nice good faith effort that shows this council supports the Kennett Library.
We could go on and on about how important the library is. The adult education classes and off-site ESL classes help many in Kennett Square, which has a Hispanic population of about 50 percent. And the library offered 155 teen programs last fiscal year and had an average attendance of 20 people at each program.
Time is of the essence, and all council did Monday night was stall. Councilman Wayne Braffman said he wanted to wait for the assessment to come in. We understand what due diligence is all about, but it’s time council stepped up to the plate and really helped the library.
Council should do the right thing -- transfer the deed to the library for $1.