By Steven Hoffman
The Bayard Taylor Memorial Library board voted last week to build a new, state-of-the-art library on a 5.3-acre Waywood Road property in Kennett Township. The library has owned the property since 1998 and initially planned to construct a new, 37,900 square-foot building on the site, but economic factors and some opposition to moving the library out of Kennett Square Borough halted those plans even before the 2008 recession that made fundraising for this kind of project even more daunting. As recently as 2010, library officials looked at as many as 20 different sites in the Kennett Square area before deciding that the Waywood Road site was still the best home for the future library. The vote last week makes a new home for the library that much more probable.
“Although this new library won't likely get built for several years, we are laying the groundwork to build a long overdue library for the 21st century,” said Barbara Cairns, the president of the library board, in a statement. “As technology brings digital information to patrons rather than the other way around, the role of libraries has shifted from exclusively being the repository of books to becoming an essential organization in the community.”
At one time, the library seemed destined to remain in the borough and the Waywood Road site was going to be sold. There was even extensive discussions about a project that would include Kennett Square Borough, the Kennett YMCA, and Anson B. Nixon Park. But when those plans failed to develop, library officials conducted a thorough analysis of all the options that resulted in the recent announcement.
“The library board is unanimous on this,” explained Susan Mackey-Kallis, a library board member and the chairperson of the Marketing, Advocacy, and Development Committee., in an interview last week. “We'll be positioned as a gateway to Kennett Square.”
The Bayard Taylor Memorial Library first opened in 1896. The current home of the library on State Street was built in 1962. The library serves Kennett Square Borough and the townships of East Marlborough, Kennett, New Garden, Newlin, Pennsbury, Pocopson, and West Marlborough.
Mackey-Kallis said that the decision was made only after a methodical analysis of all the options. Six years ago, the library board formed an advisory team to make an objective assessment of all the potential sites. The advisory team looked at a wide range of factors, including the costs of each site, the physical characteristics of each site, access to the site, the impact of adjacent facilities, and the potential for funding opportunities as each site was evaluated.
“The board members knew that they had to come up with an answer for this,” Mackey-Kallis said, explaining that library director Donna Murray and the staff have long been reshaping what services the library provides to the community. The library has been focusing on adding new programs, providing access to technology, and building a strong children’s program. The library already ranks second among all Chester County libraries for the circulation of eBooks.
“With the digital revolution, libraries have changed,” Mackey-Kallis explained. “We've already transformed what the library does. The library is now a place where the community comes together. Libraries are as important, if not more important, to the community than they've ever been.”
The existing site has long been an impediment to becoming a 21st century resource center. There simply isn’t enough space to meet the needs of the growing community, and parking has long been a major issue. The report compiled by the advisory team stated that the library needs about 100 dedicated parking spaces for normal operations and 50 more spots for special events. The library is not able to purchase the parking lot in the rear of the current building, and there simply isn't enough convenient parking nearby to meet the needs of patrons, especially when programs are taking place.
Mackey-Kallis explained, “We've taken surveys and 95 percent to 97 percent of our patrons drive to the library. Parking was one of the most important variables.”
She said that the cost for parking spots at the Waywood Road property has been estimated to be in the $1,500 range, significantly less than what it would cost at other sites that were under consideration.
Mackey-Kallis said that the library board and the advisory team conducted a through analysis of all the options, and the resulting decision based on this analysis is the right one for the future of the library.
As Cairns noted, “These deliberations concluded that the Waywood Road property remained the best option, both financially and in order to continue to serve all community members within our service area.”
The library is hosting three community conversations so that residents can raise any concerns and ask any questions about the future of the library. The first took place on May 27. The next conversation takes place from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 31, and another will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 4.
With a decision on the site now made, the next step is to raise the funding necessary to build a new library that will meet the needs of the community. A new development director has been hired to help with raising money for both day-to-day expenses and a capital campaign to construct a new building.
“The economy has turned around now,” Mackey-Kallis said. “We know that we can't put a shovel in the ground until we raise the money that we need to move forward.”
She added that the library board considers it to be very important to engage the community in the process of planning the new facility. The library will be holding formal focus groups to ask people what they want in the new library. As of now, no specific decisions have been made about the library’s design.
“At this point, there is no expectation of scaling up or scaling back,” Mackey-Kallis said. “There has been no determination of how big or how small the library will be.”
She added that everyone from Murray and the library staff to the library board are enthusiastic about the opportunity to make plans for the library of the future.
“It's exciting that we get to plan the new library,” she said. “It's going to be a few years until we build it, but it will be a busy few years.”