Mid-Continent Public Library staff and community figures gathered Thursday morning at the Midwest Genealogy Center on the south side of Independence to break ground on construction that will add a 400-seat community hall to the space.

This expansion, which comes after the center recently celebrated 10 years of service and over 1 million visitors, will include a stage, added meeting space, a catering kitchen and audio-visual capabilities.

JE Dunn Construction will spearhead the project, with an expected completion date in late spring 2019. The Genealogy Center will remain open throughout the construction.

Manager Cheryl Lang emphasized the center’s role in the community and beyond, noting it as an attraction for tourists. It stands out as the largest free-standing, tax-supported genealogy center in the United States.

“Each individual has a different story and a different goal in mind, but they all have a thirst to learn,” Lang said. “Instead of looking toward the past today, we’re looking toward the future.”

Notably, the addition of the community hall will equip the center with the space and technology it needs to host the Federation of Genealogical Societies’ 2020 conference.

The work is part of the Mid-Continent Public Library’s five-year capital improvement plan, which will make improvements to the 31 existing branches and see the addition of two more branches by 2022. The plan receives its funding from Proposition L, a levy increase of 8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, which voters approved with a 62 percent majority last November.