Chapel Hill might put library in mall for good

Staff WriterNovember 23, 2010 

— The Chapel Hill Town Council may move the town library into the Dillard's anchor spot in University Mall.

Discussions began this month, and the mall owner, Madison Marquette, asked the town to consider the space last Tuesday. On Friday, the company offered to sell the town 52,000 square feet for $4 million cash, provided that Dillard's ends its lease.

The Town Council voted Monday night to delay plans to expand the library on Estes Drive and consider the mall as a permanent location. The town staff will make a report to the council Feb. 14.

"It's not in 48 hours we're turning the Titanic," Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said. "We need to decide whether it's worthy of pausing our current plans."

Council members said they want time to get public comment and consider the proposal in the coming months.

"I am concerned about the aesthetics of the library design," council member Sally Greene said. "I don't want to lose the idea that this is valuable piece of civic space that on its own needs to make a statement about what we value here."

Council members questioned whether 60 days was enough time to decide.

"We're now putting ourselves on a fast track potentially to meet a really tight schedule," Greene said.

Others said discussion could begin immediately.

"I think it needs to be looked at quickly," council member Gene Pease said. "I want to make sure this is an unbiased, non-emotional comparing apples to apples."

The Chapel Hill Public Library Foundation supports looking into the University Mall site, said George Cianciolo, the president.

Cost savings

The Chapel Hill Public Library is the busiest public library in North Carolina in items circulated per capita. It serves an average of 1,085 visitors per day.

The town had planned to temporarily move the library to the mall in January, when remodeling of the current building was set to begin. The town had agreed to pay $800,000 to lease 11,000 square feet in the mall during 18 months of construction.

A permanent move would save the town money. It would cost $7.5 million to renovate the mall space versus $11.1 million to expand the existing library, according to the town. Klein schmidt said the library building could be used for Chapel Hill's Parks and Recreation department, which has outgrown its building.

But the mall site would provide less space: about 52,000 square feet versus the planned expansion to 62,000 square feet.

Dillard's question

It's not clear why Dillard's might not extend its lease; but Jay Lask, managing director of investments for Madison Marquette, said putting a library in he mall would benefit the community.

"The library's presence at University Mall would be of great benefit to our tenants and would help [create] a venue that serves as a focal point for the Chapel Hill community," Lask said in a statement Monday.

A Dillard's representative declined to comment.

Chapel Hill residents approved bond funds in November 2003 to support the $16.26 million library expansion project. Because of the recession, the bond issue was delayed for about two years; but in June, the Town Council gave the project the go-ahead.

The 27,000-square-foot public library was built in 1994 in Pritchard Park, a 32-acre public park with nature and walking trails. The library expansion program would renovate the 27,000 square feet and add 35,000 square feet to the building, along with an art garden.

katelyn.ferral@newsobserver.com or 919-932-8746

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