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Letter To The Editor

By Kemma Alfano

February 24, 2021

As an organization that operates on your property tax dollars, the Kiowa County Public Library District strives to be transparent with what is happening at the Library. We are, as the saying goes, an open book! With that in mind, we would like to provide you, the Kiowa County Community, with more details about how the discussion began regarding the Library relocating to the Wissell building on Maine Street.

Since the Kiowa County Public Library was formed back in 1935, Kiowa County has always provided a free space to house the Library. The Library operated under the county for many years until 1987 when the Kiowa County Public Library District was formed. The Library began its operation as a special district, which operates separately from the county, with a 1.5 mill levy on January 1, 1988. We continue to operate on this same mill levy today and the county continues to house the Library. Without this support of the county there simply would not be a Library. Our mill levy doesn’t generate enough money to maintain our own building.

As you may recall, in December 2020 we wrote a Letter to the Editor stating the many changes that the Library would be facing in 2021. That letter also stated how we had been planning to take a mill levy increase to the voters in 2020. However, we made the decision not to move forward with that ask, at this time, due to the hardships that many county residents are currently facing. While we knew this would change the outlook of the Library, we also knew it was the right decision for you, the taxpayers. As we began discussing the hard changes we would need to make in 2021 (cut in hours, services, programs, etc.), we were approached with an offer that we weren’t expecting…

After discussion with the Commissioners, County Administrator, Tina Adamson, approached the Library in late September/early October of 2020 asking if we would be interested in relocating to a portion of the Murdock building on Maine Street (also known as the Wissell building.) Adamson stated that some of the senior citizens had toured the renovation and felt it was more space than they needed. She stated that the inside of the building wasn’t complete and that the county had run out of grant options to finish it. It is our understanding they were hopeful the Library would be able to obtain a grant to finish the space to fit our needs, and that the building would then be utilized more frequently by more county residents.

We discussed this for the first time on October 12, 2020 at our Library Board meeting. The Board agreed they were interested in the idea, but weren’t keen on the idea of having to use our funds to finish a county building. However, they still agreed it was something to consider and that we needed more information from the Commissioners before further discussion. Library Board Trustee Audrey Johnson and I attended the Commissioners meeting on October 15, 2020 to discuss this offer in more detail. Some questions asked were: Would the county pay the utilities, building insurance, upkeep, etc.? Would the Library be charged rent? What work still needed to be completed? What is the estimated cost to finish the renovations? What is the square footage? What happens to our current space? How do the seniors feel about sharing the Wissell space? How do the Commissioners envision this partnership working? Johnson and I took the information gathered to the next Library Board meeting on December 14, 2020.

Prior to that meeting Adamson had asked me if the Library Board had made a decision on the space and mentioned the county may be able to help with some matching grant funds. I stated this wasn’t an easy decision to make and that there were many factors to be considered. Also that not only was a strong collaboration/partnership with the seniors essential for this relocation to work; but that a conversation with the seniors was paramount to see how this could potentially work to fit both entities needs. The Library Board was in agreement with this and wanted to know what our timeline was and if the Commissioners had a dollar amount idea for matching grant funds if needed. Additionally, the Library Board needed to see the building in person to further evaluate the pros and cons of the space.

On January 12, 2021, I attended the Commissioners meeting to inquire about the above mentioned timeline and grant funds. At this meeting both Commissioner Mike Lening and I stated that we wanted to meet with the seniors to discuss the space, the possible partnership, and to have a conversation on how this could benefit Kiowa County.

On January 18, 2021, the Library Board toured the space prior to our Board meeting and thought, “Wow! What a beautiful space!” We could picture people coming and going; painters putting their imagination and visions on another canvas; the smell of foreign food being cooked by the experimental cookers; after-school groups studying, crafting, gaming, Lego building, laughing; an entrepreneur taking a business class on the computer; the seniors leading crochet, sewing, and quilting classes and offering one-on-one lessons in the makerspace section; a school field trip group heading in the door; Zumba, yoga, dancing, and health classes; support groups holding meetings. The list can truly go on and on, but we could see how a partnership could make some of these dreams come to life. (That and programming grants of course.) We could feel the pleasant atmosphere and thought maybe, just maybe, with both organizations working together we could bring Kiowa County an experience they’ve never had before. There’s something tranquil about what a positive partnership, teamwork, and dedication can provide a community. These are some of the few things 21st century libraries across the country are offering their communities. Thus, we were excited to meet as a group and to get this conversation going!

On February 11, 2021 all three entities were finally in the same room. Those that were present were: County - Donald Oswald, Mike Lening, Butch Robertson, Delisa Weeks, Jordan Weirich, and Tina Adamson (virtually).

Seniors – Gail Voss, Doris Lessenden, Loretta Seibel, Donna Owens, Joyce Berry, Madonna Pollreis, Phil Pollreis, Areta Laird, and Lola Igou.

Library – Barbara McCoin, Audrey Johnson, Valorie Briggs, and Kemma Alfano

It wasn’t the informal conversation we had envisioned, but we were excited to be part of the conversation. As you may have read in last week’s article in the Kiowa County Independent, Adamson spoke and gave background information on how the county reached this idea and the seniors spoke on why they didn’t want to lose the space and how they planned to use it. We can understand both sides of this conversation. The county desires for the building to be well utilized and appreciated by as many county residents as possible. The seniors have a desire to grow and offer more events. We can relate as it is our desire to reach and serve more county residents and offer them experiences that aren’t currently taking place in the county.

We will end by saying libraries are not just a place to house books or build a collection. They are about building bridges, providing opportunities, forming connections, inspiring imaginations, and being a welcoming space for all. They are about helping grow their communities and wanting to see them thrive! Conversations are where growth begins and communication/transparency fuels ideas and sparks collaborations that may have never been previously envisioned. We want to see the common good for the county residents as a whole and we are hopeful that the Commissioners will continue to keep the Library in mind with future planning. We will continue to advocate for the Library and what it could be for the community. It’s happening in other places, why not Kiowa County?

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