Kennett Library to move forward on building project on its own
● By Steven Hoffman
The Kennett Library is now moving forward on building a new library on its own rather than collaborating with the borough on a larger municipal building project that would have included a new borough administration building, a new library, a police station, and an auditorium.
Thomas Swett, the chairman of the Kennett Library Board, announced the decision at the July 3 Kennett Square Borough Council meeting. Swett thanked the Borough of Kennett Square for the invitation to explore the possibility of collaborating on a project, and also thanked borough officials for the work that they put into the effort.
“We all tried earnestly and in good faith to make this idea work for everyone,” Swett said. He emphasized that the the two sides worked collegially on the project, but ultimately “the obstacles got the better of us.”
Swett explained that at the onset of the collaboration, library officials and borough officials agreed that the plan would have to be beneficial to both parties in order for the project to move forward. But as they explored the project, it became clear that the library and the borough have different needs and different priorities. The two parties are also working on different timetables, which would have presented additional challenges moving forward.
Constructing a new library, or a new administration building, or a new police station can be a complex and time-consuming endeavor. Working out the details on a municipal building that contains all three only increases the challenges.
Ultimately, the Kennett Library Board decided it was best to move forward with plans to build a new library on its own.
“Our key advisors and many of our stakeholders recommended that we proceed alone,” Swett explained.
He assured council members that the Kennett Library Board is committed to building the new library in Kennett Square, and even offered five reasons why the borough should consider a new library a major asset to have in its downtown.
Swett also had one important request: “We need the land on which to build a new library,” he said, explaining that the library needs a site that offers the right size, location, and visibility for a new building. He requested that the borough sell the Weinstein lot on State Street to the Kennett Library at a reasonable price. The Weinstein lot had been the proposed site for the project that the library and borough had been collaborating on. It is currently used as a parking lot.
Shortly after Swett made his announcement, borough council president Dan Maffei offered his response on behalf of borough council. Maffei thanked the Kennett Library Board for all its work on the collaborative project.
“I thank the Library Board for all of the work investigating the idea of a joint venture in the form of a community building that would encapsulate a library, borough administrative offices, police department and public gathering place. We believe both bodies did their due diligence in finding the best possible, mutually beneficial relationship for our constituencies. We understand the outcome of those efforts is that the library will build on its own.”
There is some level of disappointment, Maffei said, that the project isn’t moving forward as planned—a municipal building that combined new administrative offices, a home for the police department, and a new library, presented some unique advantages. Exploring the opportunity was the right thing to do, Maffei said.
Swett also characterized the effort to collaborate with the borough on a larger municipal building project as a worthwhile one, even though the two parties have now decided to move forward independently.
“Our key word has been process,” said Swett. “This was done through thoughtful process. This has all been done in an orderly and thoughtful manner.”
When he explained the benefits of a new home for the Kennett Library, Swett noted that it will attract more than 250,000 visitors. Libraries typically rank among the most publicly used services in a downtown, and can attract creative people and families to the community. A new library would be a handsome building at a key spot on State Street. The auditorium space that is proposed for the new building will be useful for performing arts programs and as a place where for-profit companies or non-profit organizations could hold meetings. The auditorium has been described as flexible space that can be divided into smaller meeting areas when necessary or opened up for larger events.
According to Swett, the library still plans to have underground parking on the Weinstein lot, though fewer spaces may now be necessary because they won’t have to account for the borough’s needs. He said that the next step is for the library to undertake a feasibility study on the project with only the new library and auditorium space as part of the plans.
Regarding the Kennett Library’s request to sell the Weinstein lot, Maffei said that the borough’s Finance Committee had already held a meeting to discuss the matter.
The committee “has begun work on establishing the parameters for a fair price for the property,” Maffei said. “It is our intent to work with diligence…and to have a proposal in the very near future.”
He added that the borough council understands the Library Board’s urgency in getting started with the design work and fund-raising for the new library building.
“We continue to recognize the value and importance of a new library for the borough and its citizens, and to the other municipalities that the library serves,” Maffei said. “We want this project to be successful.”