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West Chester library expansion off the table

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Posted at 6:03 AM, Mar 24, 2022

The $6.6 million MidPointe Library expansion is off the table in West Chester Twp. and the trustees are taking steps to facilitate the sale of the Activity Center, but the seniors who prompted the search for community space say they are undeterred.

West Chester is no longer pursuing the estimated $6.6 million library expansion and has taken another step toward selling the former Activity Center, both of which were being considered as spaces for community groups to gather.

“I think part of the issue for a few of the trustees in relationship to the addition to MidPointe in West Chester was the additional library being built in Liberty,” township Administrator Larry Burks told the Journal-News. “They seemed to think we should wait and see how that impacts our numbers at MidPointe in West Chester. Which makes sense.”

MidPointe Library Executive Director Travis Bautz said they bought a parcel of land for $950,000 on Yankee Road near the YMCA in Liberty Twp. Bautz said they don’t have any cost estimates but have found an architect.

Trustee Mark Welch has always opposed a library expansion and he said Trustee Lee Wong has joined his side, “I think what started moving Lee toward the righteous indignation was the fact that they’re putting in a 15,000 square foot library in Liberty and didn’t ask Liberty for a dime.”

Wong also spent some time at the library to gauge how it is used now and he called it “a babysitting space” for Lakota students.

Trustee Ann Becker was a big supporter of library expansion and she and Bautz even asked the Butler County commissioners for $4 million of their $75 million federal American Rescue Plan Act money to help fund it. They said township TIF dollars would pick up the rest. The commissioners haven’t yet decided which projects they’ll finance. Becker could not be reached for comment.

Bautz said the township approached them about expanding to provide more community gathering space, it wasn’t their idea. West Chester owns the building, that’s why township financing was part of the plan.

“They came to us about the expansion and we were happy to have discussions with them about ways that we can expand our services,” Bautz said. “But it was not a need for us, it was just if that’s what the community wanted we’d be happy to work with them to do so.”

The library has its own tax levy but the township built the library using tax increment financing funds in 2009. The cost was $2.1 million for the land and $12 million for construction. The library has a lease with the township and pays for upkeep and smaller capital projects.

He told the Journal-News previously two-thirds of the budget, or around $9 million systemwide, comes from the state. The rest comes from the local tax levy. About $2 million is spent running the West Chester branch, and about $600,000 is for salaries and benefits. About $1 million has been used in recent years for upkeep and improvements.

He said Liberty Twp. taxpayers deserve their own branch, “Frankly we have had a levy on the ballot since 2010 and the residents of Liberty have been paying property taxes for library services and we felt it was time for us to deliver on that. It was a campaign promise that we made to them.”

The issue of community space came into play after Community First Solutions stopped providing senior programming at the Activity Center in 2019. Seniors begged the trustees to find them a new gathering space. The township considered three options to provide the seniors and others meeting space: renovating the Activity Center, which had a rough estimate of $3.4 million, installing heat and air conditioning in the Muhlhauser Barn so the seniors could use the lower level and the library expansion. The Barn was basically dismissed because of accessibility issues.

The seniors began meeting at the library when they were ousted from the Activity Center after the trustees received a $1.8 million offer from Kroger’s landlord Regency Centers to buy the center at Tylersville and Cox roads for a huge Kroger Marketplace. The trustees haggled with Regency Centers for two years over the sale but the negotiating ended last year.

Now the Activity Center is on the market for $2.5 million and the trustees held a public hearing Tuesday to rezone the property to commercial use to facilitate the sale.

“The reason we’re moving forward with the rezoning of that property is we get rid of a potential impediment that would be another condition to the sale,” Welch said. “We’re looking for a quick sale and in that quick sale... We’re just being preemptive to get the zoning changed so that when or if a viable business that fits makes an offer and wants to proceed, we can do it with alacrity.”

The property has been on the market since January and Burks said they have had a lot of people view it but no offers yet.

The group of seniors who used to call the Activity Center home were religiously attending trustee meetings asking the trustees for help. They wanted their own space but township officials have said it should serve the entire community. Nancy and Jack Williams led the charge and they told the Journal-News it might take a few years to get another permanent meeting place “we’re not giving up.”

“We need somebody, maybe two or three investors, we have feelers out, we’re not giving up on this,” she said. “And the township knows, I’ve stood up at meetings several times and said we’re not going away and we’re not. They’re not off the hook.”

Her husband said Fairfield seniors are in the same boat and they both have been meeting with Ohio Rep. Jennifer Gross on the issue, “the truth is we might come up with the joint venture.”

Burks has said identifying community gathering spaces is still a priority this year and they are continuing on that path. The Voice of America Museum has room, the new Kemba Credit Union building has a conference room that can fit 200 people and “the fact that we’re retooling the (Muhlhauser) Barn, it may free up some space during the week for non-profits to use.”