The furor over the Central Kansas Library System’s new sign at Broadway and Stone is unfortunate for many reasons.
No one can question the importance of CKLS which supports schools and libraries in 17 counties and, by extension, the Great Bend Public Library. Both are valuable institutions that provide valuable services for the communities they serve.
Books, reading and the pursuit of knowledge are critical to our society and libraries are the repositories of much of that knowledge. The library also offers many programs that encourage reading for all ages.
And, no one can begrudge CKLS and the library from wanting to better promote themselves. Like so many entities in this age of rapidly changing technology, these organizations are grappling with the reality that they must reinvent themselves to remain relevant in the modern media landscape.
But, the installation of a nearly $1 million heating and air conditioning system in the library last year and the installation of the sign just over a week ago have cast the facilities in a bad light. Despite the projects being done to better the library and CKLS, many doubted the need for both and questioned how they were handled.
The land the library sits on and the building itself are the property of the City of Great Bend. The city trusts the management of the library to a board appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council. The board then hires the director.
This is germane because Director Harry Willems sought and was granted permission by the council for the new sign. Now, it was a controversial split vote that required Mayor Mike Allison to cast the tie-breaker, but it passed.
Somewhere in this process, the 20-year-old ash tree on the corner where the sign was to go got overlooked. Willems said he was given the OK from the Beautification Committee to have it cut down.
However, this committee falls under the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce which has no dog in this fight. Willems never asked city officials.
The cutting down of the tree was wrong and should not have happened. Willems overstepped his authority.
This being said, there were several points during this ordeal where the tree could have been saved. It is difficult to imagine that the location of the sign and its proximity to the tree could not have been noticed and brought up before the chain saw started buzzing.
It is too late now to save the lowly ash tree. But, it is not too late for improved communication between the library/CKLS, the city and the community as a whole.
If these venerable organizations do indeed exist to benefit those they serve, then we all only stand to gain from this increased openness.