New Marianna Black Library plans move forward

Commissioners hesitant to commit to funding
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On Thursday, Oct. 26, representatives with the Marianna Black Library Campaign Planning Committee for a new library presented plans on moving forward with a new facility. 

The current library is 47 years old. In 2014, Toni Wright Davidson and her husband Don Davidson donated 8.13 acres on Fontana Road for the location of a new library with a requirement that construction must begin by 2020.

On Thursday, Ellen Snodgrass, chair of the Marianna Black Library Board of Trustees, brought adjusted plans before the commissioners. 

“We listened to your concerns about the size and space for Fontana Regional Library, which has always been housed in our facility,” she said. 

Adjustments have been made based on current patron use, she said. Important usages to note include an area specifically for young adult books, and a maker space for things like 3D printers or even robotics.

The new building would address the current building’s shortcomings, for example, the current meeting room is also a storage area. There’s also a need for small meeting rooms, she added.

Parking and accessibility were also in mind with the new plans, Snodgrass added. 

The Campaign Planning Committee has reduced the proposed size for the new facility by 25 percent, after hearing suggestions from the commissioners in the past. Proposed now is a new single-story building totaling 19,553 square feet, with 18,382 designated as library space and 2,024 as the Fontana Regional Library headquarters.

As a part of reducing the size of the facility, Snodgrass explained, they brought a plan before the board for the regional library system with two options: move into their own building, an estimated annual cost of $65,000, or decentralize the staff among the three main libraries in Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

The board approved decentralization, where four administrative staff people would remain in Swain, with IT and the Reading Rover staff people would go to Macon and Jackson, respectively.

Commissioner Danny Burns asked what the plan would be for the current facility. 

Snodgrass wasn’t sure, since Swain County owns the building. The FRL staff only uses about 2,000 square feet of the outdated building, she said. 

Keith Hargrove, architect of Buncombe County, presented a feasibility study that includes a proposed plan for the location of the building, parking, an entrance pavilion and an outdoor space as well as the layout for the interior space and a drawing of how the building would look from the roadway and its entrance area.

Following Hargrove’s presentation, the first question from the board was, how much does it cost? 

At current construction costs, Hargrove estimates construction, site work and permits to cost $5 million with the total estimated project cost to be $6.65 million. 

The Campaign Planning Committee has committed to raising $1 million and has raised about $100,000 so far.


Commitment from county

For the commissioners, committing to construct a $5 million project is a tall order. Swain County’s resources to fund large capital projects are limited, with less than 15 percent of the land in the county being taxable. Plus, many of the area’s residents are low or middle income, and increasing taxes is nothing short of political suicide. 

At the meeting Thursday, there seemed to be some confusion from the board on what the library board wants from the county. 

While some board members said the library board has their support, others were quiet and the board overall seemed reluctant to commit to anything. 

Recently, each board member took a tour of the library and the newest programming option—the planetarium.

Commissioner Roger Parsons said taking that tour, he learned that the library is outdated. 

Commission Chairman Phil Carson got to the heart of the challenge. 

“I see the need myself, but it’s an awful lot of money,” he said. 

County manager Kevin King confirmed that the county’s grant writer, Ken Mills, has been on the lookout for grant funds but that it’s difficult to find brick and mortar grants.

The library system has recently purchased a program that will enable them to search for specific grants for the project. 

Chester Bartlett, with the library planning board, asked if the county has considered the option of partnering with a private company to build the facility and then leasing it, which seemed to raise some feathers from the board.

“My issue is asking us instead of suggesting and bringing the idea to us,” said Commissioner Ben Bushyhead. 

“It’s a good point, it’s cooperative,” Bartlett said. “But what I’m saying is those resources, it’s hard for individuals to pursue those.” 

“My point is research and bring us those resources we can pursue,” Bushyhead said, to which library representatives said they do.

Bushyhead conveyed that there wasn’t resistance among the commissioners, but said he was unclear on what commitment the library was asking for. The answer, it seems, is for the board to set a date for construction to begin and to fund the bulk of the project.

“We asked one time before, can we get a commitment if we raise pledges for $1 million. We need to have a commitment from you that says if this [money] comes in by such a such date, we can go ahead with this project,” said Janis Wright, MBL board member. 

The date is so important, she added. 

Library representatives stressed the difficulty in securing pledges from donors, particularly sizeable donations, without being able to confirm with them that the project will in fact get off the ground.

Karen Wallace, Fontana Regional Library director, said they recognize that Swain County is unique compared to the other counties, and that’s why the library board agreed to raise funds toward construction not just for fixtures and furnishings. 

“I feel like everybody sitting here would love to see a new library but none of us want to raise taxes,” Carson said. 

“I have to be frank in this, not everybody in this community thinks we need a new library, and we have that to come up against,” he said, adding that some don’t use the library.

According to the library, about 38 percent of Swain County’s population actively uses their library cards. Additionally, about 1,900 Swain County Public Schools students can use their school ID as a library card number. 

Diann Ball, a Swain County native who has worked for Fontana Regional Library System for more than 40 years, said she would like to see her home county get a new library before she retires. 

She’s also convinced that if Marianna Black Library could offer more, use of the library would increase.

“I’ve seen all the counties around us get libraries. This being my home county, I’d like to see Swain County get a new library,” she said. “If we can offer a lot of the things the other libraries can offer—they’d use the library. I see lots of things going on in other counties. I think it could be an information hub.”

Library representatives then asked if the county would at least commit to having a member from its board attend the library planning board meetings as a liaison.

The board agreed they would add it to their agenda for next month.

Smoky Mountain Times

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