Building Our Future

Merriam’s Green Roof Inspires Learning and Programming

One of the amazing features of the new Merriam Plaza Library, now under construction, will be a “green” roof. It’s an environmental innovation that preserves the roof’s lifespan while providing a vibrant native habitat. 

The Merriam branch, 6120 Slater St., will open in 2024, replacing the Antioch branch at 8700 Shawnee Mission Pkwy. Antioch staffers anticipate having a wonderful new space for learning and enrichment. The green roof can be seen from the street and from atop the adjacent parking garage, allowing visitors to experience a prairie landscape changing throughout the year.

“There are a wide variety of native grasses, wildflowers and other species that will really kind of shift and change from season to season,” said Dan Maginn, director of the Kansas City office of Dake Wells Architecture, which designed the building. “Libraries are places where transformation happens. The idea that the building and the landscape itself can transform was really interesting to us.”

Maginn said it’s been great working with Johnson County Library administrators, who challenged the architects to create something unique to the site. Dake Wells collaborated with Confluence, a Kansas City landscape architecture firm, to design a setting welcoming for birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. 

“It’ll be a little wild,” Maginn said. “It’s not a golf course. It’s really meant to be kind of a native, shaggy environment that’s got a lot of life and change.”  

Antioch staffers saw the green roof as a catalyst for programming even before the new building opens.  

On April 18, Antioch hosts a class on pollinators from 4-5 p.m. The same program will be offered April 25 from 2-3 p.m. at Gardner. This workshop, presented by Johnson County Master Gardeners, focuses on bees, butterflies and bats and their environmental impact. 

Youth Librarian Christi Haines was eager to bring this program to Antioch, especially because of its relevance to the green roof.  

“Back in the fall, when we were looking at what we would do in the spring, this was one of the program possibilities that the programming team came up with,” Haines said. “When I heard that was a programming option, I felt like we really ought to get it since we were going to have a green roof.” 

Youth Information Specialist Heather Miller said other programming also has an environmental motivation. Last October, Antioch hosted a “book swap” in which teens exchanged gently used books at the Library.  

“We created the logo “Reduce, Reuse, Read” so teens could come in and swap out their old books and get a refresh for their book shelves,” Miller explained. “It was bringing in that sustainability element.” 

Miller is encouraging other Library staff to consider an adult and family/kids swap, especially after the Merriam branch opens. 

Libraries are examples of sustainability and responsible materials reuse, said Youth Information Specialist Grace Bentley, who specializes in working with young children.  

“The Library in general is a green enterprise,” Bentley pointed out. “Young kids go through books really quickly.” She reminds parents that rather than buying dozens of books, they can check them out from the Library and return them for others to enjoy.  

Miller looks forward to offering innovative science-oriented programming in the Merriam branch that will emphasize fascinating aspects of the natural world. 

A scale model of the new branch is displayed at Antioch, getting lots of attention from kids. “I think it’s going to be really great to talk to kids about what they are seeing on the roof, tracking those changes, making sure they notice what’s happening,” Bentley said. “It will be another big draw and a point of interest for our families.” 

How to Build a Library: Merriam Plaza - Find the Perfect Spot

This is the first video in a series we’re rolling out during the construction process as we build Johnson County Library’s newest branch, Merriam Plaza Library. These videos will be released at the end of each month, so check back for the new episodes. Future topics include design, structure, art, interior finishes, and of course, the collection! We will also have time lapse videos each month as well. 

This video, How to Build a Library: Merriam Plaza, reveals all the details that go in to building this location. 

Merriam Plaza Library is currently under construction and anticipated to open in 2024. Co-located on the same campus as the Merriam Community Center, the new branch will replace the existing Antioch Library and will feature the same great collection and staff. 

Get more information on the construction process and see a fly-through video of the architectural renderings on our FAQ page.

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.

branch manager Amy Barclay poses in front of the Corinth library

Branch Manager Amy Barclay in front of the Corinth Library

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.”

Christian Madrigal and John Keogh

Branch Managers Christian Madrigal and John Keogh

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.