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Wednesday, 18 February 2009 18:57

Library success rides on public support

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Dr. John Bunn of Sylva lived through the Great Depression and said people bind together during tough times to help one another.

The same will stand true, Bunn believes, when it comes to donating to the new Jackson County library during the recession.

Library use actually sees a spike during hard times. When things like movies and cable are cost prohibitive, the library offers an escape through books and magazines. And when people cancel their home Internet subscription they’ll still have the Web for free at the library, Bunn noted.

“I see the library as a fantastic boon to all people,” said Bunn, the co-chairman of the Friends of the Library Fundraising Committee.

A large effort is under way to raise $1.6 million to pay for the furnishings of the new Jackson County Library and the renovated historic courthouse in Sylva. Fundraisers are half way there with $800,000 in commitments.

But the going could get tougher from here. The first leg of the campaign is targeting large donors making up to six-figure contributions, while the second half will call on the general public cutting much smaller checks.

“We still need a lot of broad community support to make this happen,” said Mary Selzer, Friends of the Library President.

The new 20,000-square-foot library will be built onto the back of the historic courthouse overlooking downtown.

Donors should be comforted by the fact that 100 percent of their donations will go toward furnishing the library, not administrative costs, said Betty Screven with Friends of the Library.

Fundraising began last May, and the remaining $800,000 is needed by July 2010, and Selzer thinks things are on schedule.

The library is scheduled to open in December 2010. Construction, including the courthouse renovation, is estimated at $7.9 million, but the county is funding that.

 

Big money, small money

Even in a recession Selzer believes people will donate to the project because it will benefit the lives of everyone in Jackson County from the “southern end to the northern end.”

Bunn thinks Sylva will pull together to support the fundraising. Bunn’s dad was a minister in a railroad town that collapsed during the Depression, but he saw the great side of people when they would do such things as share chicken and dumplings with a neighbor.

“I saw people reaching out to other people,” he said.

But because of the poor economy Bunn anticipates that donations may be smaller than they would normally be. There will be more competition when it comes to getting funding from the big foundations because of the recession.

“They will be more selective and careful of who they give money to,” he said.

Grants are always competitive and now even more so, agreed Selzer. But she feels it’s a strong project and hopes it resonates well with various foundation advisory boards when they are deciding how to dole out money.

“In a time like this in fundraising you have to take a different approach,” Bunn said. “You don’t go out and ask for the ultimate gift.

He said people will be asked to give what they can at this time to help put the library in place. For instance, he said people may be asked if they could afford to donate the cost of a doughnut or Coke a day.

In the end it is going to be the “little person” who gets the fundraising effort over the top, he said.

“I’ve never seen it fail,” he said. “The closing out of the campaign will depend on the man on the street, the woman on the street, the child on the street.”

The Depression was not the last time he saw a community rally for a good cause. He saw it in the ‘70s when $9 million was raised over two years to expand the CJ Harris hospital in Sylva.

People may also be motivated to donate not only because of the library, but the renovations to the iconic historic courthouse.

“We’re talking about a building on the National Historic Register, an icon, one of the most photographed buildings in this state,” said Bunn. “I know there is a strong attachment of the local people to that building. It’s been used to glorify the veterans of the Confederacy, those who lost their lives in the Korean conflicts. They want to see that thing preserved and kept intact.”

Letters seeking donations might be mailed to Jackson County property owners, Bunn said. That was done for the hospital fundraiser. Bunn said a letter was sent to landowners with property valued at at least $200,000. It cost $1.37 to send out a letter, and the average return was $2.42, Bunn said.

The elderly will be significant donors, he expects because they read the newspaper at the library daily.

Donating to the project should not be thought of as an obligation, said Bunn.

“I would say if they love what that place is going to represent then they will want to support it,” said Bunn. “It represents the history of Jackson County; it represents the glory and beauty of learning. The third thing it represents is the literary heritage of the world. The other thing it represents is the absolute freedom to anyone who wants to come and enjoy what has become theirs.”

 

Build it and they will come

Donations will probably start pouring in after the ground-breaking ceremony slated for May 17, when people can actually see tangible work taking place, Bunn said.

When work starts on the project with bulldozers and backhoes humming, people may be more inclined to donate because it will be more real to them, Selzer said.

People should be encouraged to donate because books are an important part of people’s lives, said Joyce Moore, owner of City Lights Book Store in Sylva and a member of Friends of the Library.

She added that during tough economic times library usage goes up, but admitted it’s harder to raise funds now.

Building the new library and restoring the old courthouse at the same time kills two birds with one stone, said Jackson County Commissioner William Shelton, an original proponent of the idea.

“That old courthouse was sitting there and deteriorating,” said Shelton. “I don’t think anyone wanted to see it fall in or be destroyed.”

Tying the courthouse into the project may also motivate people to get more involved in fundraising, said Shelton, and may open the project up to more grant money.

Donating to the library and courthouse project is a once in a lifetime opportunity, said Screven.

Once complete, the library and courthouse will hold offices for the Arts Council, the Genealogical Society, and the Historical Society, serving as a one-stop shop.

 

Money Talks

Every donor of $1,000 or more will have their name inscribed on a plaque or permanent location in the library complex. There are also opportunities for donors to have a certain area of the library named after them; for instance, a donor of $250,000 will have the community room named after them, while a $25,000 donation will get the reference desk named after you.

Donors have already reserved some areas of the library, but there are plenty left. The town of Sylva claimed the children’s area, for example.

The fundraising strategy has been to focus on entities that can give larger gifts before launching the public campaign. With large donations already in place it won’t seem so overwhelming for the public to raise the remaining money.

The Friends have targeted about 10 foundations that would possibly donate to the project. Of those two declined; one donated; and two were recently contacted and haven’t responded. The remaining five will be contacted soon, Selzer said.

The public fundraising campaign may begin at the ground breaking May 16 at Bicentennial Park where there will be story telling, family friendly activities and free hotdogs.

Throughout the summer, the Friends will continue to try to raise money at events such as Greening Up the Mountains, and Selzer will also try to spread the word to the public by speaking to civic groups.

 

Macon County did it

A similar effort to raise money was undertaken in Macon County when the Friends of the Library embarked on a mission to raise $1.1 million for furniture fixtures and equipment, said Karen Wallace, director of Fontana Regional Library, which covers the libraries in Swain, Macon and Jackson counties.

It took a couple of years to raise the money for the Macon Library with the majority of funds coming from grants and large donors and the remaining from the community at-large.

The bad economy may not hurt fundraising efforts that much, said Wallace, adding that people are sometimes more generous during tough times because they realize how difficult it is to raise the money.

The amount of the donation is not always the most important thing either, said Wallace. She noted that when money was being raised for the Macon County library, that two young boys gave their allowance money to help out.

When the public donates to a project such as a library they have some ownership in it, said Wallace.

 

The Cashiers factor

Getting donations from Cashiers, which has a lot of wealthy residents, may be difficult because they have their own library, Bunn said.

Cashiers residents will think of their own library’s needs before they think about the one in Sylva, he said, adding he doesn’t blame them.

“They want to see it continue to grow,” he said.

But Selzer said Cashiers residents should be inclined to donate, even though it has its own library.

“This is the main county library and will be connected to the historic courthouse,” Selzer said.

Not only will the library benefit all of Jackson County, but may also have a “multi-county use” with people from Swain, Haywood and Macon also utilizing it, said Screven.

 

Preserving history, looking to the future

The women love the idea of adding a new state-of-the-art library onto the back of a historic courthouse that they say is the “emblem” of Jackson County.

“This is a class project,” Screven said. “Jackson County will have something it can be truly proud of.”

In the past tourists have been upset when they’ve stopped in Sylva to go to the courthouse after seeing it from the highway only to find it closed.

Much architectural expertise is going into designing the library to make it blend with the historic character of the courthouse.

For example, the signature large arched windows of the courthouse will be replicated on the library. Screven said the architectural design is in keeping with the Friends of the Library capital campaign slogan: “Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future.”

As for the remodel of the inside of the courthouse, it will be done to make it resemble what it looked like when it was built in 1914.

Selzer explained that the courthouse lost a lot of its historic charm on the inside when it was “gutted” and modernized in the 1960s.

The good news is that the architect was able to look at the Madison County courthouse to get an idea of what the interior design, such as the molding, flooring and trim, may have looked like 95 years ago. Screven explained that the Jackson County Courthouse is the “younger sister” of the Madison County courthouse because they were built using the same plans.

The architect, Donnie Love, visited the Madison County courthouse and got pictures of the interior to incorporate into the remodel.

Screven praised Love, saying he is a specialist in refurbishing old buildings for new use and has been on his hands and knees of the old courthouse to plan the project.

The new library will measure 20,000 square feet compared to the current one that is drastically short of space at only 6,400. Selzer said the new library will be the size it should be for a county of Jackson’s population.

With the new library tied to the courthouse and perched on a hill with great views of the mountains and the town, it will be one of the prettier libraries in the country, said Selzer.

The new library will have an outside seating area with café tables, something that cropped up as a request from the public during a series of visioning meetings held during the planning process.

The county commissioners decided at a budget meeting on the project a couple of weeks ago they would go ahead and bid the project with some additional features such as a terrace and faux sky lights that look like stained glass on the ceiling. If those items come in too high they can be taken out of the project.

 

Renovations and donations

The second-floor courtroom will be renovated and have 100 fixed seats, providing a place for plays, author talks and musical groups.

A need for places to hold community meetings will also be met with the new facility, said Selzer. The ones here now are at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College, which are usually only for those affiliated with the institutions, or you have to pay, Selzer said.

The children’s area will be three times the size of the current one and have a story time room. The adult collection will also be about three times as large, and there will be a teen area to replace the current one that is a mere bookshelf. The computer lab will be expanded from the current seven stations to around 30.

People have always liked the way that the courthouse looks from Main Street, and that will not change, as the library will be put on the back of the building out of the line of sight.

There are about 30 volunteers working on the project, and about six to seven are spending “quite a bit of time every month” fundraising said Screven.

 

Why they’re interested

Selzer said she became interested in the project several years ago when there was discord over where to locate the library. A library should be a positive thing in the community, not a source of frustration, she thought.

Her experience with international finance and insurance gave her the skills to organize the project, she said.

By taking her four grandsons to the library it was obvious it was short in space, said Screven. So with her professional career in public relations she joined the effort as chair of the PR and special events subcommittee.

 

Big donors push campaign along

The Jackson County library campaign is half-way to its goal of $1.6 million. Donations include:

• $150,000 from the Janirve Foundation of Asheville

• $105,000 from the town of Sylva

• $100,000 from Jackson Paper

• $100,000 from an individual who prefers to remain anonymous

• $15,000 from United Community Bank

• $10,000 from the Sylva Garden Club

• $10,000 from Jackson Savings Bank

• $10,000 from Duke Energy

 

Ways to Donate

• Jackson County Friends of the Library Web site: www.fojcml.org.

• Call Jackson County Public Library Complex Campaign Steering Committee Co-Chair Mary Selzer at 828.293.0074 or Campaign Coordinator Connie Terry at 828.507.0476.

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