The idea was hatched over dinner.
Joseph Wang, a doctor who owns property in Holts Summit, and Marty Wilson, a local real estate agent, were at an event for their daughters' volleyball team last December when they decided to try and bring a library to the city.
Wang had a property he was trying to fill, Wilson said, "so we just got talking and he told me growing up, he grew up by Chicago, that his mother was a librarian and his dad was an engineer. So, it was like, 'Well OK, a library — you know, why don't you put a library in there.'"
Almost a year later, the Daniel Boone Regional Library announced plans earlier this month to open the Holts Summit Public Library in February at the Summit Plaza.
Making the space
The location had been sitting empty for years. Efforts to make it into a YMCA facility had failed, and it was in the middle of Holts Summit's most active area. So Wilson and Wang reached out to DBRL to pitch the idea of adding a new branch in space.
At first, the answer was no. DBRL didn't have the money to turn an empty building into a functioning library.
"And so we said, 'Well let's rephrase it, what can we do to get you to come here?'" Wilson said.
The space would need to be renovated to allow a library to move right in as cheaply as possible, among other conditions. With those requirements in mind, the nonprofit Holts Summit Community Empowerment Foundation was formed.
To renovate the space, the foundation took on $325,000 of debt, including a loan through the Callaway Chamber of Commerce with the U.S. Department of Agriculture worth $187,500. Wang took out an additional loan, with the foundation responsible for paying it off, to fund the rest of the project.
After multiple book sales and other donations, the foundation's debt is down to about $318,000 now, after paying miscellaneous costs such as utilities and insurance.
"It was a long shot," Wilson said. "It was a risky move, you know, to get (DBRL) in. But it was a risk that we had to take to get it, because we needed this project to launch the next one."
Wilson said the foundation plans to work on renovating the space next to the library into a community center and possibly partner with Boys & Girls Clubs of Jefferson City. The foundation's current debt needs to be paid down first, he added.
The foundation also was boosted by a donation from Barnes & Noble, with the company donating most of the materials, like bookshelves, from its Jefferson City store when it was closed. The foundation gave most of those materials away to other libraries, churches and shelters, Wilson said, but kept what could go toward a Holts Summit library.
DBRL Director Margaret Conroy said the library will be open 20 hours a week, with a focus on after-school hours. DBRL's budget doesn't allow for as many hours as branches in Fulton or Ashland offer, she added, "so we want to make sure we're available for kids in the community after school."
"Families in Holts Summit want a place for their children to continue to have access to books and especially programs," Conroy said. "So we are going to be very focused in our programming and without collection in supporting education there in Holts Summit."
Some additional lighting and wiring work needs to be done, and the book lockers in Holts Summit City Hall will be moved to the library before it potentially opens in February.
The Holts Summit Public Library will offer wireless access, computers, meeting rooms and a book collection shared between all DBRL branches.
Conroy said DBRL hopes to have three people in the facility during all open hours, possibly rotating staff from Fulton. There will be at least one or two new job openings, she added.
DBRL is planning to put a tax levy increase on the ballot in 2020 "in order to support the service in the long term, and also to help meet our costs at the rest of the library services in the community," Conroy said.
As part of the agreement bringing a library to Holts Summit, DBRL will not have to pay rent for the space during the first two years. Without a tax levy increase, Conroy said she doesn't see how the organization would be able to continue to afford a Holts Summit location.
Conroy said DBRL is initially investing around $111,000 in basic materials, such as furniture and computers, and is expecting $132,000 in annual operating costs, which includes staff salaries.
A goal of DBRL is to have the library become a point of pride for the community, Conroy added.
"One of the things that public libraries provide communities, besides what everyone thinks of, you know, the collection, books and information, is a community center, a space a community can come together," Conroy said.
Effects on students
Wilson said one of the motivations for bringing a library to Holts Summit is to help lessen the divide between the city's two elementary schools, Callaway Hills Elementary and North Elementary. North Elementary has consistently scored higher in science, language arts and math proficiency scores than Callaway Hills, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's website.
"Regardless of socio-economic status, I think any time you offer people an opportunity to learn, you know, that's going to help us grow in all areas that we want to do," Callaway Hills Principal Todd Shalz said. "So while the schools have differences it's going to benefit North Elementary, it's going to benefit Callaway Hills Elementary."
Callaway Hills is able to use libraries in Fulton and Jefferson City, Shalz said, but adding one in Holts Summit makes it much more convenient for families.
"Any additional access that (students) have to reading materials, reading experiences, is going to be beneficial for them," Callaway Hills Librarian Jennifer Wilson said. "Having something right here this close, plus all of the online resources that the library has to offer, it will be a positive impact for sure."
Callaway Hill's library is fairly limited, she added, making DBRL's resources even more valuable.
Shalz said a goal of JCPS is to have 100 percent of students reading at grade level, and increasing access to reading is important to that goal. Callaway Hills can also serve as a "jumping off point" in introducing students to the library so they want to go back outside of school, especially during the summer.
"Reading is the door that opens up every other subject area," Shalz added.