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Library Board approves plans to move downtown library

Posted at 5:56 AM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 06:56:58-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Plans to relocate the downtown library are heading to city council for final approval. But many patrons are still not convinced its the right move.

On Thursday, the Omaha Public Library Board of trustees approved the rental agreements to move Omaha's downtown library and administrative services to new buildings.

"We've been working on this for the past few months with the mayor's office, and I feel very confident, and so does my board about what's going on with the downtown library," said Mike Kennedy, president of the board.

The plans will need to be approved by the city council, but if finalized, the downtown branch will relocate to 1401 Jones St.
Read the rental agreement.

Administrative services would be moved to a former Shopko at 3020 S. 84th St.
Read the rental agreement.

The starting cost for these moves would require $3.5 million dollars for renovations and $870,000 each year for rent on the two buildings.

RELATED: Omaha city council still wants answers about library project

During Thursday's meeting, many community members spoke against the plans.

Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek was one of several patrons to say they felt the project was being rushed to free up the space where the current downtown branch sits.

“It’s really almost like a done deal at this point, but it is something I really ask you to rethink," Maxwell-Ostdiek said. "City services, the city’s land, the city itself is not for profit. None of these things that are taking place at such a rushed pace are for the benefit of our city. It seems like it’s for the benefit of some sort of profit.”

Mayor Jean Stothert has said the location near the Gene Leahy Mall is a key component for the riverfront development and that numerous developers have their eyes on the property.

Heather Bullis and her son spoke to the board, asking them to reconsider moving the branch they go to often. Bulllis worried how the plan would affect access to services the W. Dale Clark branch provides.

"It addresses like, ‘We need this space, so you guys need to get out of it really fast,'" Bullis said. "It doesn’t address how fast are you going to get us back into having some kind of a main branch that actually both incorporates all the things that were in this building.”

Kennedy said the board took its time to do research on the plans, and create a memorandum of understanding to do what they could to prevent disruption to library services.

"They're concerned because they love their libraries, and sometimes change is a little scary" Kennedy said. "But I'm telling you this board has worked hard with the mayor's office to come up with a plan and a facility that will work for the needs. And I think once people kind of get into it they're gonna love it."

The rental agreements will now need to be approved by city council for plans to move forward. A public hearing will be held on Tuesday during the city council meeting.

Kennedy says if approved, construction on the two buildings will begin immediately.

Also happening on Thursday, Senator Terrell McKinney of Omaha introduced a bill that would change how the library board is created.

LB 1256 would require cities consisting of 300,000 people or more to hold elections for the Library Board of Trustees. Omaha is the only city in the state that has that many people, but Lincoln is getting close according to 2020 census data.

Board members would serve four-year terms. The board would be made up of one member from each city council district and two at-large members who are registered to vote in the city.

Library employees would not be able to run for the office.

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