With economy improving, Wake to start building libraries again

mquillin@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2013 

After taking a five-year hiatus because of the recession, Wake County is moving to resume long-hoped-for library construction projects, beginning with the new Northeast Regional Library outside Wake Forest.

The county Board of Commissioners had approved the building design, purchased a 9.24-acre tract of land and accepted bids for the library’s construction when, faced with the national financial crisis of fall 2008, the county put the project on hold. Commissioners also halted everything else that was to be paid for from the sale of $45 million in bonds voters had approved in 2007.

The county had the money to build Northeast Regional, but because of declining revenues, commissioners chose not to commit to the costs of staffing, stocking and operating that or any other new library. The last new public library the county built was Leesville Community, finished in October 2009. It was already under construction when the recession hit.

As the economy worsened, the county trimmed operating hours at existing libraries and slashed its book-buying budget, allowing its collection to fall by hundreds of thousands of books as volumes were lost or destroyed or became outdated.

Recently, the county restored the lost operating hours, and at their Monday meeting, commissioners moved to allow county staff to resume planning for Northeast Regional and to apply for an extension on the sale of the 2007 bonds that had not yet been sold when work was halted.

State law requires that bonds be issued within seven years after a bond order takes effect. Nicole Kreiser, the county’s debt and capital manager, told commissioners that so far, only $300,000 of the 2007 library bonds have been issued, and under current plans, the remaining $44.7 million in bonds could not be sold by Oct. 9, 2014. To sell the bonds – which were approved by more than 70 percent of those who voted – after the expiration date, the county must get a three-year extension.

No one addressed the board during a public hearing on the question of whether to apply for the extension, and the board voted to do so.

Library could house voting

Mark Forestieri, director of the county’s Facilities Design and Construction Department, reminded commissioners what they would be getting for the estimated $5.7 million it will now cost to prepare the site and build Northeast Regional, a 22,300-square-foot single-story building with large windows across the back that will overlook a creek and surrounding woods. Original bids for the building ranged from $5.1 million to $5.9 million, and Forestieri said material costs have risen over the past five years and labor costs are now creeping up as well.

Commissioner Paul Coble asked if it would be possible to include a room large enough to accommodate voting in the library building, and Forestieri said he would look into it before coming back to the board in November to ask for approval to get fresh bids on the project.

The county also has long-range plans to build or expand public libraries in Garner, Cary, Fuquay-Varina and Wake Forest, but Commissioner Phil Matthews said Monday he would like to reconsider which ones to build next because population growth may have shifted.

“Wake County is changing,” Matthews said, and commissioners need to make sure all parts of the county are treated fairly.

Healthier Wake ahead?

Commissioners also voted to set a goal for Wake County to become the “Healthiest Capital County in the Nation,” by measures such as the rate of premature death, low birth weight and the percentage of adults who report fair or poor health.

The county will work with major hospitals, business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, large employers, state, county and municipal governments, area colleges and universities, and others.

Wake has been ranked as “Healthiest County in North Carolina” for four years in a row by the national County Health Rankings project, but the county’s human services department has said pervasive health disparities remain.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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