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Karen Connell

Connell 

Lessons were learned after a bond issue for a new library/culture arts center failed in 2017.

Columbus residents voted against issuing up to $8.5 million in bonds to design, build and furnish the roughly 45,000-square-foot facility planned for the former Gene Steffy Ford property along 14th Street between 23rd and 24th avenues.

A new city police station is presently under construction at that site, and though city officials know people have various thoughts on a potential new library, they’re going about how they plan for one by keeping residents involved through every step of the process.

“Last time around it seemed like the project was pretty polarizing,” recalled City Administrator Tara Vasicek, noting people were really excited for it or completely not in favor.

That is sort of the same to this day.

“People have strong opinions about it,” she said. “People seem to feel strongly about it one way or the other.”

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Vasicek and Columbus Public Library Director Karen Connell will host what is being called a “Town Hall Meeting” on the second level of CPL, 2504 14th St. in downtown Columbus, to discuss the potential library building project and review previously collected data.

It will be the culmination of several months of work by the two, who have gone to various community civic groups’ meetings to participate in “round table discussions.” During those, people had the chance to fill out surveys and express their desires in regard to potential features for a future library facility.

“We want their feedback,” Connell said. “We have been listening to their thoughts.”

Thursday’s meeting will be similar, but on a grander scale as more people will be involved at one time in the discussion/presentation that is free and open to the public.

“We want to try and get as many people and stakeholders involved as possible,” Vasicek said. “We want it to be much easier and much clearer to voters (as to what) they’ll get if the project passes.”

The tentative plan is to potentially present the project to voters in fall of 2020, according to Vasicek, who stressed it’s all still very early in the process. As such, Thursday’s meeting will be specifically about reviewing data and sharing thoughts about what features a new library would contain.

“What components could be included and how they could be included together,” Connell said of topic points. “How might all of those features work together?”

CPL has been in its current downtown two-building facility since 1977. In 1976, according to the city’s website, the City of Columbus purchased the two Nebraska Public Power District buildings on the north corners of 25th Avenue and 14th Street. The city offered the building on the northwest corner to the Library Board provided it could raise the funds necessary to remodel it, the website states.

The Library Board and the Library Foundation then solicited funds from the public to pay to remodel the 33,000-square-foot library that boasts reading room and study space, among other things.

The current location has been great over the decades, Connell said, but she added CPL has also outgrown it. She said she would like to see the library have a more open space and modern layout down the road. The director said she ultimately wants people to view the library as a gathering space or a community hub.

“There are a lot of small rooms, it’s very chopped up,” she said of the current location. “It has been functioning so we have a place to have books, movies and a computer lab, but we could just do so much more with a building that was designed for a library and flexibility and adaptability.”

Attendees can bring up whatever they would like Thursday night, such as potential locations and prices, but none of that is the point this time out. Vasicek stressed the project is still very much at “square one” and that the idea is to review data already received, share ideas and get a feel for where the community stands.

The hope is to narrow things down to three possible options on Thursday and proceed from there, she noted. Vasicek added those involved with it want people to feel good about where the project is headed because they would like to put one in front of the voters that can be the best possible option while staying within the parameters outlined by the community.

“We’re at ground zero,” she said. “We’re trying to get as many opinions as we can get ….”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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