• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

Library board plans $3 million expansion

Two days after the Woodford County Public Library’s Board of Directors postponed a vote on setting tax rates for fiscal year 2019-2020, board president Gerald Wuetcher and library director Karen Kasacavage discussed their $3 million expansion plan with the Sun. Wuetcher said they have a purchase agreement with the owners of the building at 131 North Main Street that houses The Flower Basket Florist shop to buy the property for $230,000. The deal is contingent on an agreement with the Woodford County Historical Society to house some of the group’s materials in the new building. Additional office space would also be created, he said. Ruth Ann Adams, president of the historical society, told the Sun that the potential agreement would have the library house books and archived materials such as files, genealogical research and other papers in the new building. “So from a structural point of view, we’re basically buying the land,” said Wuetcher. Connie Thompson, who said she’s owned or co-owned The Flower Basket Florist for 35 years, confirmed Wuetcher’s statement that she’d move out after the Christmas season. She said she didn’t want to discuss her post-Christmas plans. Wuetcher said a preliminary plan by the architect who handled the library’s $3.5 million expansion in 2006 estimated the entire project – purchase, demolition and construction – would cost $3 million. Planning for the library expansion began 18-24 months ago, Wuetcher said, with the library board first eyeing the building that houses Community Trust Bank. He said they dreamed big, and he had in mind the downtown branch of the Lexington Public Library, which has a theater. “A place where you could have political debates, lectures, movies, things like that. We looked at that, especially … in the context of buying the bank building. But then we realized after looking at the bank building (that) it was probably too large for us. The cost to renovate that building to meet our needs was going to be significant, and at least at the time, the owners of the building, when we asked about a purchase price, what we were originally given indicated to us that was probably not the best option,” Wuetcher said. The board then cast their eyes on the building on the other side of the library. Wuetcher said they approached officials with the historical society to ask about transferring their collection to the library, and that they were interested. The library used to house some historical documents in the Kentucky Room. “We had nowhere to put them … so we gave them to the historical society,” said Kasacavage. The architect suggested the most feasible option for acquiring additional space without a tax increase would be to acquire the property next door, Wuetcher said. Wuetcher and Kasacavage pointed out that the library is much more than a place to check out books and other materials. “We have a lot of meetings,” Wuetcher said. Kasacavage said one day last week, 387 children took part in a “touch a truck” program, and lunch was served to 100 afterwards. The library also hosts a variety of public meetings and many community services, including one designed to maintain children’s reading skills over the summer. Another series of “English as a Second Language” (ESL) classes like those held at the library last spring were recently moved elsewhere for lack of space, he said. “… I think the public doesn’t realize all the various services the library provides,” Wuetcher said, adding that the library was one of nine in Kentucky that recently received “exemplary status.” If the three-way deal is struck between the property owners (Jack Kain and wife Alice Stewart), the historical society and the library, demolition of the building at 131 North Main Street could begin early next year, with the addition complete in July 2021, Wuetcher said. Asked whether the typical library customer who comes in for a few books now and then will consider the expansion a wise use of tax dollars, Wuetcher said the board needs to let the public know more about their plan. “It is their money, and we’ve always had that obligation to … be good stewards of their money. I can’t speak for (the) prior board, except to say they did an excellent job. I mean, first making the addition in 2006, then the successive boards that managed the finances to pay off the building 13 years early,” Wuetcher said. In 1999, the library taxing district’s rate was 2.6 cents per $100 dollars of real property (real estate). In 2003, a tax petition campaign launched by the board was successful, raising the rate to 6 cents to pay for the first expansion and improve library services. Later board votes increased the rate to 6.8 cents by 2010. The additional dollars helped the board pay off the loan from the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACO) early, saving $1 million in interest, and funding the construction of a new Midway branch library in 2009, Kasacavage said. In 2013, the board began lowering the rate, which is now 6.3 cents. At their July 17 meeting, the board tabled a motion to set new rates, with Wuetcher indicating he favored keeping the rate the same. A vote on the rate for calendar year 2019 is expected at the board’s next regular meeting Aug. 21 or a special called meeting. Kasacavage sent the Sun an email showing that in 2017, Woodford County’s library tax rate was lower than all contiguous counties, save Scott. One goal is that the addition maintain the character of the present library, Wuetcher said. “I think our own personal preference would be to make the new addition blend in to the … way this building looks, but we don’t know yet whether we will have to preserve the façade of The Flower Basket,” he said. The Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission will weigh in on that matter, he said. “We feel like we’re one of the linchpins to the community …” said Wuetcher, citing the summer food service program hosted by the library and its many other programs. “We’ve also, historically, felt like we were the keystone to downtown,” said Kasacavage. “We committed to staying here back when … a lot of libraries were leaving downtown and going on bypasses or whatever. We did this long before it was chic to be here. …”

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