On a chilly, blustery afternoon and evening, a group of nearly 50 people were in the Bessimer Room of the Newton Public Library, smartphones in their laps and fingers on the screens at two different meetings on the same topic.
There was important work being done, as the library hosted a pair of public input meetings to begin site selection for a new library facility. Those in attendance were able to take part in a real-time poll and answer more than a dozen questions about what important features a new library site should have, and evaluate five options put forth by a consulting firm and the city of Newton for possible new locations.
"After we have the criteria that is the most important, we can report back to the city and library committee about 'here is what we heard from the community, here is what we heard about these sites and here is what we are recommending to move forward with," said Peter Bolek, with HBM Architects and Interior Designs. The Ohio company was retained to assist with a possible new library project. "We are asking you to help develop the criteria today."
What came to the surface at both meetings was the belief that of the five locations brought forward, the current Military Park location was where the library needs to be.
The five locations brought forward included three sites already owned by the city: Military Park, 320 N. Main (the old Dillons building downtown) and West First and Boyd streets (an empty field owned by the city). Those three sites were the top-rated sites by those in attendance at both meetings Thursday.
Also on the list was the Old Alco site on Old US-81 highway, which ranked fourth in both meetings, and near 36th and Kansas Avenue near the outlet mall, which ranked fifth at both meetings.
At the afternoon meeting, members of the public suggested some other sites for evaluation — Ash Street Park and the currently empty building in the 1400 block of Old Main next to the Sand Creek Bike Path. An empty lot in the 200 block of S. Pine was also suggested.
Architects will evaluate each site based on the feedback given on Thursday — with the public rating visibility, site acquisition cost, adequate parking, proximity to schools and proximity to downtown the highest rated factors from each meeting.
When received, the library will post full results of the site selection meetings on its website, https://www.newtonplks.org/.
The cost of the consulting project is about $1.45 million, which would be split into four phases. Those phases were Phase 1: Site selection (September through November) costing $35,000 and paid by the city; Phase 2: Feasibility review and concept development (October through February 2020), costing $254,000 and paid by the library; Phase 3: Public fundraising campaign (February 2020 through November 2021), costing $276,000 and paid by the library; and Phase 4: Construction drawings/design and bidding (December 2021 through October 2022), costing $880,000 and paid by the city.