County board leaves library question open

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

— Orange County’s Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday there’s still a lot to talk about when it comes to the services, size and location of a Southern Branch Library.

Commissioners primarily were concerned about the community’s wants and needs, the county’s existing financial support for Chapel Hill’s public library, the amount of parking that would be required and the possibility of a library site in Carrboro that would allow multiple uses.

While a roughly 20,000-square-foot, one-story library requiring up to four acres of land has been proposed, Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs said that’s not a done deal. The county has money set aside to pay for a library and land, but the size of the library and the number of floors could be changed relative to the size of the land, he said.

“I do think it’s critical to consider the relationship with this library and the Chapel Hill library. If you have an excellent, comprehensive library less than four miles away, we don’t need a 20,000-square-foot library in Carrboro,” Jacobs said.

The commissioners agreed it might be a good idea to wait and talk with Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen. The county will present the questions and recommendations from Tuesday night’s meeting to the aldermen on April 9. The commissioners also could meet with the aldermen at a future meeting.

The aldermen submitted three potential sites in a December letter in response to a request from the commissioners: Carrboro Town Hall on West Main Street, 1128 Hillsborough Road and 401 Fidelity St.

County staff studied each location, suggesting the commissioners further consider a site at the northwestern corner of the Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Hillsborough Road.

However, the aldermen also asked in the letter that the commissioners think about looking at other sites downtown, including 300 E. Main St. and 203 S. Greensboro St.

The town of Carrboro paid $600,000 earlier this week for the Greensboro Street parcel, which it has leased as a public parking lot for several years.

County Library Director Lucinda Munger gave the commissioners another reason to wait Tuesday when she updated them about ongoing work to draft the county’s first strategic library services plan. The commissioners will get their first look at the plan May 14.

Munger said the work was prompted by last year’s dissolution of the Hyconeechee Regional Library System, which included Orange, Caswell and Person counties. It will reflect what residents and community leaders want in a 21st-century library, she said.

“Do they want to continue with a vast paper collection? Is it e-books? Is it computers? Is it media room space? Is it story times for their children? Is it all of the above, and probably more?” she said.

The county has spent roughly 25 years and appointed three task forces to find a southern library branch site. Another Hillsborough Road location near downtown Carrboro fell through in 2011 after the aldermen rezoned the property to allow a library.

If the county eventually chooses a site, it would pay $10,000 to $15,000 to complete in-depth technical studies before making a final decision. The public also will have a chance to comment.

County officials have asked Carrboro to help speed up the process and cut costs by making sure the necessary zoning and permitted uses are in place for any proposed site. The county also may ask the town to waive any site plan review fees. The county has $600,000 in a capital funding plan to buy land for the new library and $7.5 million for building design and construction.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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