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Chester County Press

Kennett Library & Resource Center begins construction

12/21/2021 03:10PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw                     Celebrating the start of construction on the new Kennett Library & Resource Center are, from left to right, Collis Townsend, trustee and chair of the Imagine Campaign Cabinet; Jeff Yetter, board president; Mary Hutchins, campaign administrator; and new executive director Christopher Manna.

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer 

Throughout the last year of their nearly 20-year journey to construct a new library, the visionaries responsible for raising the funds for what will become the Kennett Library & Resource Center have asked thousands in the community “To Imagine a Place.”

The “place” they are referring to – which began a construction process last week that is projected to be completed by the Spring of 2023 – is a two-floor, 33,425 square-foot facility that will feature 15 meeting rooms, maker spaces for children and adults, an outdoor terrace, a 110-seat auditorium with a stage and, in a wider sense, serve as a new and revolutionary complex of learning, resources and opportunity that will forever change how libraries have been traditionally defined.

For the moment, however, the only physical representation of that vision is in the form of a fenced-in construction site at the corner of State and Willow streets in Kennett Square, just down the street from the current library, an 11,000 square-foot building that has served the community since 1961.

“Having gone through the revitalization of a library in two other large communities like this, I have seen how much it galvanized these communities around the library becoming the ‘third place’ in people’s lives after ‘work’ and ‘home,’” said Kennett Library Executive Director Chris Manna, who began his new job on Nov. 22 after several years as a library executive in Oklahoma, where he was involved with three library projects, including the $30 million construction of a new library in Moore, Okla., expected to open in 2023.

In many ways, however, the site of bulldozers and contractors in hard hats along State Street is merely the latest chapter marker in the realization that a new library in Kennett Square is on the horizon.

“These are exciting times, but we still have a long way to go,” said Collis Townsend, Trustee and Chair of the Imagine Campaign Cabinet. “I am thrilled by how the community has responded. Now that the earth has begun to move, I think more people will come to understand what an extraordinary new resource is being built in Kennett Square. This is a 22nd Century investment – for our children’s children.”

In order to engage and inform the entire eight-municipality area that both uses and supports the library, a marketing campaign has been developed to keep the public in the loop about the library’s progress through frequent mailings, e-mail blasts, a marketing video and an online newsletter that is distributed every week.

It’s working.

“I can’t meet anyone anymore who doesn’t know what’s been happening at the Kennett Library,” said Jeff Yetter, president of the Library’s Board of Trustees. “Much of the energy of our campaign for the new library is coming from our current library. We used

to have six book clubs and now we have eight. This place is on fire with activities and this is letting people know that the Kennett Library is a place where great things happen.”

“We have a great Campaign Cabinet,” said Townsend. “Claire Murray, Phoebe Fisher and Pattie Morgan Miller just joined. Collectively, the Cabinet bespeaks the merit of the campaign – well-known civic leaders spreading the gospel about the new library in a favorable way.”

Progress has also been made to determine the final cost of the Kennett Library & Resource Center. The library’s New Building Committee, led by Library Trustees Brad Peiper and Loren Pearson, recently finalized an agreement with the library’s construction management firm EDiS to cap the cost of the project at $21.1 million.

“In these uncertain times we wanted to make sure that EDiS and the Library agreed on a maximum price for the building. The Guaranteed Maximum Price amendment ensures that our costs will not exceed $21.1 million, allowing the price to come in lower if material prices don’t rise as we anticipate,” Peiper said.

Library receives additional $1.9 million state grant

In early December, the Kennett Library received a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program award that will allow the library to use up to $1.9 million in new grant funding, thanks to the work of Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester and Delaware), Rep. Christina Sappey (D-Chester), Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester County) and Sen. John Kane (D-Chester and Delaware), who helped secure the fund.

“I am extremely pleased by this grant approval,” said Sappey. “The Kennett Library serves numerous townships in the Kennett area and this project gives thoughtful consideration to the collaborative way we work and learn now. The facility will provide a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient building with event space, auditorium, and multipurpose rooms for public gatherings and educational programs.

“Numerous individuals and groups came together to make this modern library a reality. It’s a testament to the people and creativity here, so I am grateful for their efforts and very pleased that this funding will help complete a dream in our community.”

How the award will be used – and how much of it will be used -- will be determined by the library’s key stakeholders.

“It is great news as an endorsement that the state continues to recognize the Kennett Library again, and we are grateful to our legislators who really came through for us,” Townsend said. “What we are doing now is evaluating the terms and conditions of the grant to see how we can best strategically use it to help build the new library.”

‘It’s like casting a fishing net’

As several components of the campaign to build the new library are firmly in place – community awareness, government support and the start of construction – so too is the Kennett Library’s capital campaign, that continues to push forward in acquiring the funding to meet the $21.1 million final price tag. To date, the campaign has raised over $13.7 million toward its goal from contributions made by private foundations, local businesses, area municipalities and private donations from community members.

To help steer the campaign, the library has recruited Mandy Cabot and Peter Kjellerup, founders of Dansko, together with Paul Redman, President & CEO of Longwood Gardens, to serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Campaign.

The campaign is scheduling several special events in the coming months, including a private dinner at Longwood Gardens on March 15 that will include a private fountain show; a concert at Longwood Gardens scheduled for April 7 (the artist has yet to be determined); a “Next Generation” party at a family farm in May; and a wine tasting event in June. Townsend said he is confident that these events will generate more than $6 million.

“And there is also the Melton Terrace,” Townsend added. “Greg and Caroline Bentley have made the leadership gift, as well as Dennis’ twin brother Dale Melton. Dennis and I, along with Nancy Mohr, Michael Walker, Tom Swett and many others, have been advocating for this new library for 20 years. It is so fitting the Board of Trustees chose to name the upstairs terrace in his honor. He touched a lot of people and cared deeply for this community.”

“There will be lots of opportunities for people to hear our story,” he said. “At the end of the day, our Donor Wall is going to be a list of people, mostly from Southern Chester County, who had the generosity of spirit to look out for others -- people like Jeff and Carol Yetter, Michael and Nancy Pia, Ann and Steve Hutton, Julie Noolan, Meredith and Mike Rotko and the list goes on.

“Ask a friend, tell a friend -- everybody needs to be part of this project.”

Naming opportunities

Another arm of the capital campaign has been providing donors with the opportunity to have naming rights attached to several rooms and spaces in the new library. While some areas have had already been committed, several still remain, from having one’s name be included in the Kennett Library & (Name) Resource Center ($5 million) to receiving naming rights to the auditorium ($3 million) to receiving a tote bag featuring the imprinted words “I helped build the Kennett Library” ($250).

“The building of this library is huge, and short of Longwood Garden’s expansion, it’s the largest project happening in Chester County,” Townsend said. “During COVID, the Library proved it is an essential part of our community. There are people who have done profoundly well in this world who should be reinvesting in their community. Almost everybody that I meet, from age 2 to age 90, has a wonderful library story to tell.”

When the Kennett Library & Resource Center opens its doors in the spring of 2023, Manna knows that he and his staff will be charged not only with the responsibility of directing the operations of a 33,000 square-foot facility but redefining what the role of a modern library is to the communities it serves. It’s a philosophy he’s applying whose roots are found in the mission of the Harwood Institute, which is to teach organizations that their primary responsibility is to turn their attentions “outward” toward what those in the community need. “Many people continue to see libraries as if it’s 1895, because that is where we have remained as a profession for many, many years,” he said. “We – librarians -- have not taken those necessary steps and have continued to hole themselves up instead of reflecting outward.

“In reality, however, the future optics for libraries is entirely the opposite of our history. We need to get out of our building, go to the schools and the playgrounds and the neighborhoods, and ask people what they need help with, and grow this new library based on those needs.

“As libraries reshape, we must and will invert that relationship of what they have stood for, and this new library builds this around the changing needs of this community.”

To learn more about the capital campaign to build the Kennett Library & Resource Center and to make a donation at a variety of levels, visit or e-mail Mary Hutchins at [email protected].

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].