Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

The Kansas City Public Library’s North-East branch will be relocating this winter for roughly 9 to 12 months to undertake a $4 million renovation project at the 6000 Wilson Road location.

In the meantime, the library will operate across the street at 5930 Wilson Road, inside the old Peking Garden Chinese restaurant.

The project will include enhanced programming and services, upgraded technology, additional materials, a large-scale renovation of the building, and most significantly, bringing Refugee and Immigration Services and Empowerment (RISE) to the North-East branch.

Joel Jones, deputy director of library services, said the library plans to not have a single day of interrupted services for patrons.

The renovation is the first large-scale project the Kansas City Public Library is undertaking since voters passed the mill levy Nov. 6,  2018.

The 8-cent increase in the property tax based operating levy was the first increase request in 22 years.

The previous level of funding, set in 1996, was no longer sufficient to sustain operations at the library’s 10 locations, some of which were not even in existence when that funding was set.

In 2017-18, while the Kansas City Public Library saw more than 4 million visitors, levy funds and support for its operation and services had increased by less than one percent annually over the last decade.

But with the new increase, the library will see an additional $2.8 million annually, which will be used to maintain and modernize facilities as well as sustain and enhance essential services.

Recently, the library extended hours at various branches across the metro, a direct result of the additional funds.

The $4 million renovation at the North-East branch includes a large remodeling of the current branch, both internally and externally.

The entrance will be revamped to hold more windows, the canopy removed, new paint and new landscaping will be added, and the parking lot will be reconfigured.

Jones said these changes are being made so the library looks modern and identifiable to the community.

“As it stands, this building looks like a government building, shrouded in secrecy because you can’t see into it,” said Amanda Barnhart, North-East branch manager. “There are glass security gates and a security officer. There is possible fear. I’ve seen people hesitant to come in, or when they get to the doors, they turn around and go back to their car.”

Inside, the library will be completely renovated. Two meeting rooms will be designed with updated technology, including the addition of projector capability in both rooms.

A cafe lounge will be added near the entrance of the building, a need that was expressed to library staff during a series of focus groups that were held last year.

Barnhart said this way, community members can have a space to come and enjoy a meal.

“There are a lot of little things that we have noticed that are barriers for people to use the library that we are trying to take away and enhance their access,” she said. “Especially in this community where people are taking a bus or biking or sharing a ride. We want to say ‘hey, you can bring that in and eat and enjoy a meal here.’”

Jones said adaptation is something the library is working to do alongside meeting the community’s needs.

“Many things that libraries do is adapt. We see a need and we try and meet it. We are always thinking about new things,” he said. “We have identified that folks need a place to eat their food, so we will give them the space.”

The library will also rearrange the children and teen area, update all computers, create a great-room with lounge seating, add two glass-walled study rooms with TV monitors, and have an additional classroom.

Jones said the library is also working to diversify the materials and will add more Spanish and Vietnamese literature to meet the needs of the diverse community.

Of the changes, Jones said one of the most significant will be bringing the RISE staff to the North-East branch.

RISE currently offers a variety of classes and services including assisting immigrants in their path to citizenship through interview practice, English language for citizenship or vocational trades, smart credit classes, conversation clubs, and much more.

The vision behind this move was to place RISE in the center of a highly-concentrated population of refugees and immigrants.

“This will be in the heart of a new immigrant community and much easier to access than where they currently are,” Jones said.

The new classroom will be dedicated to providing RISE classes and workshops for refugees and immigrants.

The interim location across the street, while substantially smaller, will continue to offer core services to patrons, including Kids Cafe and Storytime.

Residents will also still be able to access Village Post Office services including purchasing stamps and utilizing the P.O. Box service.

While housed in the temporary location, Barnhart said the staff will be working to map out enhanced programming once the library reopens.

Staff turnover has also led to the library hiring various positions, including teen services, which Barnhart said would work alongside the children’s librarian to offer programs from birth through high school.

In the past, Barnhart said community meetings have sometimes competed with library programs for space, but in the new building, there will be an opportunity to house both.

The construction project is currently out for bid, so library closing dates are dependent on how the bidding process unfolds.

Overall, Barnhart said she sees this renovation as a major asset to the Northeast community and her goal with the project always comes back to one thing.
“The continued love and sharing of literacy. That never isn’t a goal of ours,” she said. “It is always our true north.”

The underlying theme that was heard from the focus groups, Jones said, was the need the Northeast community expressed for a gathering place.

“My hope is that when this opens, it’s a bright and welcoming place for all members of the community to use and gather,” he said. “The neighborhood and community has changed in the last 30 years that it’s been here. It’s a very active and involved community. I think this space will allow us to adapt to those changes year to year, decade to decade, and become a more flexible and community-oriented space than it was created to be.”

To learn more about the North-East branch, visit www.kclibrary.org or call 816-701-3485.