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Boone Library Seeks City Partnership in Expanding WiFi Access to Students

The Boone County Public Library launched a pilot program to provide greater access to the internet for Boone County Schools students.

Library Executive Director Carrie Hermann explained the program at Tuesday night's Florence city council meeting.

The program is called the WiFi Mesh Network.

Hermann said that 10 percent of students in the large district do not have internet access at home, and while some local governments have explored internet hotspots to address similar needs, the library concluded that that was too expensive an option.

Instead, the library placed antennae at all its branches to offer enough internet range for nearby neighborhoods. The range can be boosted by local partners who agree to place antennae as well.

One such idea would be firehouses, including the one on Main Street in Florence, Hermann said. 

She explained that the library would form a WiFi bridge with the antennae from the library location on U.S. 42 and the one at the firehouse to extend the network.

Councilman Mel Carroll asked about the security of the system, and Hermann admitted that it wasn't password-protected.  She said they could protect it with library cards, but not everyone has one. 

Carroll asked if they could do a hybrid system where people with cards could be protected and those without cards could stay on the unprotected system, but Hermann said they weren't prepared to do that yet.  

Councilmember J. Kelly Huff asked what the speed would be, and if they would be using data caps. Hermann said the speed would be two gigabytes per second, and they hadn't thought about data caps. He also asked if the library's provider knew of her plans, and she said yes, they were aware.

Hermann said that software will allow for the tracking of data used, how many people were using the internet, and how long it was being used.

Councilman David Osborne asked if only students would be able to access the internet, and would they be able to access the internet from their home or did they have to go to the library, and Hermann said people could access it from their homes.

Mayor Diane Whalen said that the city is still hopeful that the Florence branch would be expanded on U.S. 42 following a facilities study. The mayor said that the WiFi program is a good idea and is much needed during this period of at-home learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other business, following an executive session, council voted to purchase the leasehold interests of Midwest Properties, LLC, which held a lease at the parcel at 8275 Ewing Boulevard. The location is under a ground lease agreement from 1998 and with the action of council last week, allows the city to take steps to complete a sale.

The ground lease agreement was intended for Midwest to construct a building on the site and lease it to the Social Security Administration. When they built the building, it became the property of the city and was subject to the ground lease. But if the Social Security Administration ended its lease with Midwest, which it did, and Midwest was having trouble keeping other tenants, the city could take the steps to buy the leasehold interest.

So the city decided to end the ground lease and buy the remaining leasehold interest of Midwest so that the premises can be sold or leased to a qualified occupant.

Council approved the second reading of an ordinance annexing a 2.735 acre site located at 6136 Hopeful Church Road, at the request of the owner.

This annexation had to be approved before council could approve a zoning map amendment for this same tract of land from Suburban Residential 1 to Commercial Services 3 to allow an expansion of an existing automobile dealership, Kerry Toyota. Mayor Whalen said it will be a parking lot for the dealership.

A tree-lighting ceremony is planned for December 1 at 5:30 p.m., but will be a virtual event so that people can watch online rather than attend in person. Santa will also visit virtually.

-Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor

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