Once again Edgerton residents find themselves on the front lines fighting for something other communities take for granted: a library. The county library board is considering closing the town’s library at their Feb. 9 meeting.
The library – aptly called The Bank of Knowledge – was built through private donations by volunteer labor. The county leases the facility from Edgerton. A derelict, century old building that once housed a bank, and later a community store - was rebuilt nearly brick-by-brick after sitting vacant for a decade. Former city clerk Rita Moore and former Mayor Mike Schmidt, both now deceased, were actively involved, as were many others. Those who donated their money and labor on the project believed the library would be open for generations to enjoy.
The Bank of Knowledge was achieved through the use of private donations and Community Development Block Grants after a decades-long struggle with the county library board, who – despite the fact Edgerton has always been assessed library taxes – said the community profile did not fit the library board’s master plan. Library officials suggested 10 years ago that Edgerton’s youth could “ride their bikes” along U.S. Highway 56 to use the Gardner library.
About that time, with school board approval, former Edgerton Elementary principal Sharon Buffington allowed the school’s library to be open during the summer for youth, while the county library offered only a cart of outdated books at city hall.
Before county library officials finally agreed that if the city built a building they would provide services, Edgerton officials had considered seceding from the library taxing authority and starting their own community-owned library, a city-owned library similar to what was done by Wellsville or Olathe. In retrospect, maybe they should have.
When Edgerton’s struggle with county officials to receive basic library services was featured in Kansas City media, met with public outcry, funds, books and equipment donations came pouring in.
Finally, the library board agreed to lease the building, if the city would renovate it. Edgerton is the only community in Johnson County that was required to build their own facility. Both De Soto and Spring Hill have always had libraries.
So Edgerton, the little town that can, did. Countless volunteer hours were spent clearing debris, and community-minded contracting companies completed repairs to The Bank of Knowledge through donated labor or at rock bottom prices.
In 2002, The Bank of Knowledge, East Fourth and Nelson, received the Award of Excellence from the National Association for County Community and Economic Development. The award was presented to Moore and former Mayor Frances Cross in White Plains, NY. The NACCED is an association of counties, and the award is presented to projects for innovative, effective and exemplary activities in the area of community development. Criteria for the award included volunteer commitment and innovative fund-raising.
And now county officials, citing budget cuts, want to close it down.