Wake County

Wake County leaders weigh future of Athens Drive Community Library

County leaders are trying to decide the fate of the Athens Drive Community Library, which is set to close to the public this month.

On Monday, the Wake County Board of Commissioners is expected to consider three options for the library, which is housed at Athens Drive High School in west Raleigh. The library could adjust its hours to open after school on weekdays, it could open in a new facility, or it could close.

The county and the Wake school system announced in June that the library, which has served the public and Athens Drive High School students since 1980, would close because of security concerns on campus.

The plan angered some residents, and a petition on change.org asks for county leaders to extend the library’s July 26 closing date. By Friday morning, the petition had more than 275 signatures.

Hannah McKenzie, who uses the Athens Drive library, said she was confused about the claim of security concerns.

“It’s a small space, you can see who is coming and going,” McKenzie said. “I’ve always felt very safe there.”

In their initial announcement, the county and the school system said offering public library services in a school “poses a challenge to the school’s mission of maintaining campus safety during the instructional day.”

School officials said there have been no reported safety incidents related to the library at the school.

A memo from the school system’s attorney to the county’s attorney in April shows the big issue was a wrinkle in the financial agreement between the two groups.

“Although it is not a school function to run a public library, the WCPSS is currently hiring, evaluating and directly supervising County public library employees, which poses ongoing complications for the school-based administrators as well as the school library staff assigned to Athens Drive High School,” Benita Jones, attorney for the schools, wrote.

The county gives money to the school system every year to pay the salaries of the library employees at Athens Drive, according to the memo. But the county’s annual payment was not on par with what other school employees earned.

In fiscal year 2014, Wake County paid the school system $160,000 for library employee salaries at Athens Drive. But the school system paid those employees closer to a total of $190,000, according to the memo.

Jones suggested the county consider operating the public library after school hours.

In her memo, she said Wake school administrators are willing to continue evening and weekend library service, as long as the county pays the library staff, including a security guard. The school system also wants the county to install better signage, among other conditions.

Wake County staff aren’t in favor of reducing the library’s hours, according to a report. It would mean less foot traffic and wouldn’t be cost-effective, according to staff.

Building a new facility would cost at least $5 million, a staff report shows. Annual operating costs would be about $600,000.

Meanwhile, it would cost the county between $680,000 and $780,000 to renovate an existing building to lease as a library. It would cost up to $790,000 a year to operate the space.

Staff looked at spaces in the Plaza West Shopping Center on Western Boulevard, the Swift Creek Shopping Center on Jones Franklin Road and the Avent Ferry Shopping Center near the intersection of Gorman Street and Avent Ferry Road.

Threat of closure in 2009

Wake County considered closing the Athens Drive library in 2009 because of budget concerns.

Leslie Watts spoke up at public meetings back then in an attempt to keep the library open. Ultimately, county leaders decided not to close it.

“I do understand if you don’t live in this neighborhood, it can seem like a weird model,” said Watts, who has been going to the Athens Drive library for more than 20 years.

But she said the library is important. It hosts free events and educational activities, such as story times for children and families. Visitors can also use computers for free.

Maryam Funmilayo homeschools her four children and uses the county’s library collection for references. The Athens Drive library is close enough to her home that she can walk there, and it’s small enough that library staff know her and her children.

“I love everything in close proximity,” Funmilayo said.

The county and school system have suggested Athens Drive library patrons use the Cameron Village or Eva Perry regional libraries, or the Cary Community Library.

But not everyone in west Raleigh can get to those places, Watts said.

“This is a very diverse neighborhood and everyone is not going to have the option of hopping in a car,” she said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4802;

Twitter: @mechelleh

Join the discussion

Wake County will host a community meeting to update residents on options for the Athens Drive Community Library at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 9, at the library at 1420 Athens Drive, Raleigh.