Building Our Future
Beloved Oak Park Branch Due for Improvements in 2023
Oak Park Library, located at 9500 Bluejacket St. in Overland Park, has been a cherished neighborhood branch since 1970. It has a cheerful, family-friendly atmosphere that’s popular with patrons who walk or drive in from nearby residential areas. But the building needs updating, which is due to happen later this year.
The branch will close for up to 16 weeks between August and December, to allow for bathroom renovations, heating-and-cooling upgrades, entrance and paving enhancements and improvements to make the building more accessible for people with mobility challenges. The main information desk will also be repositioned to be more visible from the front entrance.
Branch Manager Jared Harper said those renovations will help ensure a bright future for this wonderful branch. “What distinguishes Oak Park now is it is an older Library that has charm to it,” Harper said. “It is a branch that is really well loved in the community.”
Harper said many parents fondly recall visiting the branch as children and now enjoy bringing their own children there. One added amenity is its location adjacent to Overland Park community garden plots. Oak Park was built during a time of great population growth and new residential development in Johnson County. Voters approved a $1.5 million bond issue in 1967 to expand Antioch and Corinth and to build two new branches: Cedar Roe and Oak Park (originally called the Southwest Library and then renamed for the adjacent Oak Park neighborhood).
Oak Park opened Nov. 3, 1970 and held an open house dedication in February 1971. It expanded in 1982.
After Central Resource Library opened in the mid-1990s on 87th Street, just two miles north of Oak Park, Library leaders briefly considered closing the Oak Park branch in 1999. But countless patrons sent postcards, pleading to keep it open. They praised the convenient location, the collection, the friendly staff and the vibrant atmosphere. Oak Park stayed open.
“It’s such a fixture in the community,” Harper observed.
Oak Park is in the middle of the pack as far as busyness, but it has the largest circulation of any Johnson County branch without an automated sorter. In 2018, it recorded more than 197,000 visits and circulated more than 291,000 materials.
In the early 2000s, Oak Park was known as the hub for Latino services, including English Language Learner classes and other programs. Then-branch manager Maggie Vallazza was passionate about reaching out to the Latino community, as were Spanish-speaking staffers Christine Peterson, German Perilla and others.
In 2015, Harper explains, Spanish services were expanded throughout the system. Vallazza has retired and Peterson is now based out of Central, concentrating on youth Latino services. But Perilla continues to serve Spanish speakers who visit the branch, which retains the largest Spanish-language collection in the Johnson County Library system.
Now, Oak Park is known for serving young families, with a large and diverse children’s collection, heavily-used computer stations and a popular Holds service.
Last year, the branch shut down for about a week to remodel the circulation area for better work-flow and to update the staff break room. This year’s improvements will require a prolonged closure but are timed to come after the busy summer rush. Harper said patrons can visit Central Resource Library during that time. More changes are expected in 2024, when the branch is due to get new shelving and some new furniture.
“Getting new shelving next year would just really brighten up the space,” Harper said.
Merriam Plaza Library Groundbreaking
Johnson County Library began construction on its newest branch, the Merriam Plaza Library, after a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 29.
Construction Manager Titan Built has mobilized to the site. Their first few activities have included securing the construction site for safety and beginning sitework.
The new building, co-located on a campus with the Merriam Community Center, is expected to open in 2024. The 15,000-square-foot branch will replace the much-loved but outdated Antioch Library, which has served Johnson County since 1956 at the corner of Antioch Road and Shawnee Mission Parkway. Staff and the collection will move from the existing location to the new building.
Read about the project on the FAQ, and check back on the Library’s website and social media sites for construction progress photos and updates.
Corinth Looks Ahead to 60th Anniversary and the Future
Johnson County Library’s Corinth branch, at 8100 Mission Road, is popular with patrons from Prairie Village and beyond. It opened Feb. 24, 1963, so 2023 will mark its 60th anniversary milestone.
In 1967 Corinth expanded on both the north and south sides to reach its current size of 20,475 square feet. In 1988 it had an interior renovation, with the addition of an elevator and east side windows.
The building has had some major maintenance in recent years, including a new roof and updated electrical and heating/cooling work. It has a well-stocked children’s section and a spacious computer area and remains a favorite Library destination for young families and adults.
“We are quite busy. We are well loved,” says Amy Barclay, who has been branch manager since January 2019. “Corinth is known for being a place for families to come and meet and connect. We have tutors here all the time. We often rank quite high on customer service.”
But there’s also a recognition that the community could use a more modern facility. The current land-locked location is not conducive to expansion. The 2015 Comprehensive Library Master Plan identified the need to replace Corinth with a new building, but no timeframe was specified.
A more immediate branch task is the Merriam Plaza Library project, a replacement for the current Antioch branch. The final design has just been completed for the new branch, with construction planned in 2023 and a grand opening in 2024.
The Library Board has been weighing how to prioritize the timing of new construction for Corinth and the best way to work with Prairie Village city officials.
Very preliminary talks began in 2019 between the Library and Prairie Village leaders over possibly collaborating on a civic campus that could include a new community center and Library, in proximity to Harmon Park. Survey results in December 2019 showed strong support for the Library in Prairie Village overall, and support for the Library being included in a shared campus. Talks were then put on hold due to COVID-19.
Stakeholders from the Library and city of Prairie Village resumed conversations earlier this year and indicated a willingness to keep working together.
Barclay and other Library leaders would love to see a new Corinth branch with a convenient drive-thru, larger meeting rooms, better accessibility for people with disabilities, and other amenities found in the newest branches — Monticello and Lenexa City Center — and in the renovated Central Resource Library.
The Prairie Village City Council is beginning to explore the feasibility of building the community/civic center, but this remains very tentative. On Oct. 3, the City Council debated whether to conduct a survey to gauge citizen support for the project, but postponed a decision. At their November meeting, the City's ad hoc civic center committee elected to send an updated version of the survey to residents. If citizen support exists, the city would still need to figure out a location, conceptual design and how to pay for it.
The Library, which has its own dedicated funding source, will also pursue its own areas of inquiry, including programming and how much space will be needed; site feasibility including traffic flow, parking and potential phasing; and cost estimating.
In the meantime, Barclay says Corinth is doing well and enjoying the return to in-person programming, with its popular Storytimes, book groups and Legislative coffees.
“It is really refreshing to be in a branch where the community is so invested in this building,” Barclay said. “I do still think the community pretty much loves this branch. We’re not losing patrons to the prettier branches. There’s a lot of loyalty to Corinth and to Prairie Village.”
Gardner Library Temporarily Closed for Improvements this Fall
Gardner Library will be closed to the public Wednesday, Oct. 5 until mid-December for interior and exterior improvements, including roof replacement, updates to plumbing and mechanical systems, and repaving. The final reopening date will depend on conditions such as weather and supply chain availability; patrons will be notified via email and other Library communication channels once a reopening date is determined.
Patrons may continue to return materials to the exterior return bin during the duration of closure, and Curbside Holds Pickup will be available during normal operating hours beginning Monday, Oct. 10 through early December. Please note the location of the dedicated Curbside parking stalls will shift a few stalls to the right to accommodate construction equipment in the lot.
Meet Merriam Plaza Library
Here's your first look at the newest Johnson County Library branch, the Merriam Plaza Library.
This new location will replace the current Antioch Library, which has been a fixture in the Merriam community for over 60 years—staff and patrons alike have many fond memories of the building, some having visited Antioch their entire lives!
Plans for the new Library, located just a few blocks away on the campus of the Merriam Community Center, have been in development with the City of Merriam for several years. The name Merriam Plaza Library is fitting as it is located within the Merriam Municipal Plaza which is also home to the Community Center, City Hall and police station. The name was selected by a committee and voted on and approved by the Library Board at their Sept. meeting. The design phase is now complete and construction will begin in late 2022/early 2023, with the new facility anticipated to open in 2024. Learn more about the project in our FAQ.
For more information, visit jocolibrary.org or follow @jocolibrary on social media for project updates and photos.
Shawnee Branch Celebrates Decades of Service to Community
The Shawnee Library branch is celebrating 30 years at its current location, 13811 Johnson Drive, sharing a campus with an aquatic center and civic center.
But Library roots run even deeper in Shawnee and date back nearly 70 years, to a charming little schoolhouse. In fact, the very first Johnson County Library branch opened its doors June 3, 1953 in Shawnee, in the old Dunbar School at 57th and Reeder Road. The facility was first run by volunteers from the Friends of Johnson County Library and later by paid staff.
The Shawnee Library moved to rented space near Nieman Road on Johnson Drive, but budget cuts forced its closure in 1958. For the next 34 years, Shawnee was served by the Antioch branch.
Library and civic leaders always wanted to re-establish a Shawnee branch. That became even more essential with population growth in the 1980s. The city offered the present site on its Johnson Drive civic campus, and the branch opened there on April 25, 1992.
The building, designed by Gould Evans architects, had floor-to-ceiling windows, a bright, airy interior and a vaulted roof resembling an open book. Its design was so impressive that it was featured in the Library Journal’s annual architecture issue that same year.
Serving patrons today is a joy for Branch Manager Anna Madrigal and Assistant Branch Manager Megan Clark.
“It’s not as big and flashy as some of our new locations, but it’s well established for the families and individuals who utilize it,” Madrigal said. “We’re in the middle of a residential area. People can plan their whole day around going to the pool and then coming to the Library or the opposite.”
Madrigal loves the tall windows with lovely views. “There’s a lot of nature. It kinds of spills over into the trees behind it,” she said. “It’s just a peaceful place for people to hang out.”
Madrigal and Clark are especially looking forward to building improvements planned for the first half of 2023. The branch will get all new shelves, furniture, carpet and paint throughout, new heating and cooling systems and other upgrades.
“We are just really investing in the infrastructure of the building to make sure it’s good for the next 30 years,” Madrigal said.
The branch will shut down for about ten weeks, with the timing not yet certain.
Madrigal started as branch manager in November 2019 and Clark in January 2020, just prior to the pandemic. They are pleased to see a gradual return to normalcy, with the meeting room back open and used heavily by homes associations, scouts and other groups. Storytime returns sometime next year. The branch is now a polling place and a Red Cross blood drive location.
Shawnee’s door count has dropped significantly since the Monticello branch opened in 2018. Still, Shawnee maintains a loyal patron base of families, students and avid readers. It had 78,815 visitors and circulated 136,406 items in 2021.
A large senior living development with apartments and villas is opening nearby in 2023, and their social coordinator has already reached out to Madrigal for information about Library services.
Clark sees the Shawnee Library as a crucial, welcoming community hub.
“I think it’s going to be maybe even more beautiful when we have the renovation,” she said. “Even though we’re not one of the busier branches, it’s a nice destination for our patrons. We have a hard-working staff who make it what it is, and provide the service to make them want to come back.”
Library Exploring Enhancements for De Soto, Spring Hill, Edgerton
Johnson County Library is exploring innovative ways to refresh buildings and enhance services at its smaller community branches: De Soto, Spring Hill and Edgerton.
The DeSoto, Spring Hill and Edgerton Conceptual Design Study began with community engagement surveys, resulting in about 350 responses, and a virtual listening session earlier this year. Staff and patrons offered numerous suggestions relating to hours, cosmetic updating of Library space and requests for services and programming.
“We know these communities have grown and changed,” said John Keogh, branch manager for Gardner, Spring Hill and Edgerton. ”We know it’s been a while since we did a major reconsideration of how we provide services to the community branches.”
Johnson County Library has engaged Clark & Enersen architects to study creative ways to refresh the Library spaces. Conceptual designs are expected to go to the Library Board in August.
The intent is to fund these projects with Library reserve dollars, and future discussions will involve the budget and construction phasing timeline.
The timing is right for this evaluation. The De Soto and Spring Hill branches both opened in 1982. Although well maintained, they have not seen major renovations since then, while those communities have become growing population hubs.
The Edgerton branch, the only library building not owned by the Library Board, was the result of the town’s successful campaign to repurpose an existing building in 2000. The building is underutilized. Work anticipated for this facility would address condition issues.
The Edgerton City Council is currently considering building a community center in close proximity to the Library branch which is an opportunity to create synergy between the two civic amenities.
In community survey responses, patrons frequently asked for more meeting and study spaces, updated interiors, extended hours of operation, popular collections and more natural light.
Patrons want best sellers and high demand fiction, and the Library is working to accommodate those desires, said Christian Madrigal, Branch Manager for Lenexa City Center, Monticello and De Soto. “We have a great collection department, which keeps lists on things which are very popular,” he said.
The De Soto, Spring Hill and Edgerton study includes three topics, which staff will continue to develop recommendations for:
- Creative use of existing available space. The Library is exploring ways to move walls and reconfigure the physical space at De Soto and Spring Hill for meetings, tutoring, book clubs and other gatherings.
- Branch hours. Johnson County Library is analyzing requests for more evening and weekend hours and whether those would actually be utilized. Hours of operation are established by Library policy and can only be changed by the Board, so this will require considerable research. The last change to hours was in early 2015.
- Expanded patron access. The Library is also looking at innovative service models to allow patron access the buildings when it is convenient to the patron, even when staffers aren’t there. This requires an understanding of national Library trends and the resources necessary for and risks to providing the service. The Library could potentially pilot a new service model at one of these locations.
Construction work of this scope would require these locations to be closed during construction, but patrons could visit nearby branches including Gardner and Monticello.
“Access is very important,” Madrigal said.
As the concept design study wraps up later this year, the budget will be refined. Contingent on Library Board approval, design and construction work at the first of these locations is anticipated to begin in 2023, and would be phased as resources allow.
De Soto Library: Past, Present, Future
The De Soto Library, at 33145 W. 83rd St., is one of three small community branches on the outskirts of the Johnson County Library system, along with Edgerton and Spring Hill. These branches are seen as vital anchors and gathering spots, integral to the fabric and character of their close-knit towns.
For Lori Ross, a lifelong De Soto resident and system-wide materials handling clerk with Johnson County Library, the branch is an institution and a wonderful resource for northwest Johnson County, west of Shawnee and Lenexa.
“It’s a good staple of the community,” Ross said. “It’s very much a connection to the world.”
For Branch Manager Christian Madrigal, De Soto is special because it’s a small branch where many patrons know each other and get to know the staff, talking about favorite books and developing positive relationships.
Especially before the pandemic, many residents used the branch for access to the entire Johnson County Library collection. In 2019, the branch had 1,735 card holders and a collection of 15,373 materials. It had 30,000 visits that year and a circulation of 37,000 items.
“I think the community really utilized the Holds system there,” Madrigal said. “Lots of people dropped in to use computers for job searching and to stay connected. We still have two regulars who come in every day to get the newspaper and stay current.”
For years, the branch had an active book club whose members hope to resume meeting soon. It remains a popular hub for teens, families and retirees who check out materials and rely on the Library Wi-Fi.
The branch has a storied history, and Lori Ross has an especially meaningful connection to its origins. Her great-grandmother, Edna Ross, started the first De Soto lending library in the mid-1950s, with books on shelves in the family’s store, Ross Electric and Plumbing Shop, on the town’s main street. That lending library lasted until Johnson County Library started providing a weekly bookmobile stop in 1957. By 1966, the bookmobile was so popular that it was parked in town and manned by volunteers.
In 1967, the prominent Coker family built a 1,200-square-foot Library at a convenient downtown location, next to the Post Office, near an elementary school, and just down the street from the Ross family store. The original facility, which opened in October 1967, had 3,000 titles and was leased by Johnson County Library.
De Soto continued to grow in population. By the early 1980s, it was clear the community needed a larger Library. A 3,776-square-foot building was constructed on the same site and opened in June 1982. That’s the Library that Lori Ross visited almost daily as a schoolchild for books and to hang out with friends. This year marks its 40th anniversary.
Ross and her mother Kathy now run the De Soto Historical Society on the upper floor of the old Ross family store, a block from the Library. The proximity is wonderful; people often visit the Historical Society and then head to the Library just as it opens.
Madrigal is excited that Johnson County Library is embarking on a renewal study for its community branches and is holding Listening Sessions to get patron suggestions. Working with Clark & Enersen architects, staff is looking at how to maximize the building for programs, possibly using temporary partitions to create meeting spaces. Other requests are to enhance the Spanish language collection, offer MakerSpace software and expand Library hours.
Madrigal is optimistic about the future, with the renewal study serving as a roadmap. It will be, he says, “an opportunity to provide or extend Library services that can match or be taken into consideration with our staff and patron feedback.”
Initial Design Unveiled for New Library in Merriam
Johnson County Library, in partnership with the City of Merriam, is excited to share initial renderings of our new Library with the community. The 15,000 sq. ft., single-story building will replace the existing Antioch Library, which has served the community since 1956. The square footage is similar in size to the branch portion of the Antioch building, so the size of the collection will not change. The new Library, located on the Merriam Community Center campus off Slater St., will include several 21st century amenities that can adapt to community needs for another 60-plus years.
This design, by Dake Wells Architecture, is the result of collaboration between the Library, the City, and you! Our goal is to complement the existing architecture and landscape on the Community Center campus, creating a jewel for the city and a destination for residents and visitors from across the metro to play, work, relax, and discover.
We’ll share more details about this project this summer once the design and materials have been finalized. Until then, here are a few ways we are incorporating your feedback from last year’s public input sessions into plans for the new library:
- An eco-friendly green roof creates a visual extension of the current landscape;
- The expansive “front porch” offers a welcoming outdoor space for campus visitors;
- Sculpture-like light monitors on the roof provide natural light and a connection to nature;
- Cozy window nooks along the east and west sides of the building preserve a beloved feature of the existing Antioch building;
- A drive-thru window adds convenience for on-the-go materials returns and holds pickups.
Other anticipated improvements include new shelving that offers greater accessibility and sight lines throughout the branch, a variety of comfortable seating options, study spaces and a meeting room, new computer technology, and an interactive kids’ space.
We know that libraries are more than just a building—they are a collection of people of different ages, interests, abilities and needs. No matter who you are, how you want to use the library, there will be a space for you at our new Library in Merriam!
Construction is anticipated to begin early 2023, with the new Library open to the public in 2024. More information to come via jocolibrary.org and merriam.org; until then check out a 3D model of the new building at Antioch Library May 9-31, and in the Merriam Community Center lobby beginning June 1.