The Jackson County Courthouse, Sylva’s most distinctive building, was built in a rush.
C.J. Harris, a prominent industrialist and wealthy Sylva businessman, bankrolled the $50,000 project in 1914 in return for the county seat being moved from Webster to Sylva. Harris had it modeled after the Madison County Courthouse and got it built in a year.
Transforming the historic building into a community space and anchor for a new county library has taken considerably longer. After a decade of debate, a year of planning and another year of building, the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library hosted a tour of the construction site last week to showcase the progress.
“We’re combining something that’s very historic with something that’s brand new,” said Betty Screven, a volunteer with Friends of the Library. “While it’s going to be modern in its technique, it will be historic in feel.”
Construction Manager David Cates of Canton-based Brantley Construction said the project will likely miss its December target for an opening date as a result of poor weather and complications with restoring the courthouse cupola.
“Our first 90 days of the project, we had 62 days of measurable rainfall,” Cates said. “We’ve worked around our elbow to get to our foot to get construction completed.”
Cates said the project will finish in the early part of 2011, but the tour showed that all the elements of what will be a regional showpiece are in place.
“This isn’t just going to be great for the people of Jackson County. It’s going to be great for Western North Carolina,” Screven said.
Architect Donnie Moore and interior designer Lynne Wilson of Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith have pored over historic records to revive the feel of the Jackson County Courthouse in its original state. The building was gutted during a renovation in the ‘70s and almost no original features remain. Love and Wilson used the Madison County Courthouse, which has kept its original character, as their model.
The new complex will feature three separate architectural spaces unified by recurring design elements. The old courthouse will be converted into a community space that will house the county’s historical and genealogical societies, the arts’ council, and catering kitchen. The historic courtroom itself will be renovated as an auditorium complete with vintage theater seats that will double as a community meeting room.
A giant addition will be built to the rear to house the new library. A glass atrium will connect the two and serve as the entrance to the complex. The atrium is to carry the name of the State Employees Credit Union Foundation in gratitude for their $250,000 grant.
The two-story rectangular library addition will be open to the ceiling in the center, showing off stunning stained glass skylights.
To offer some sense of the upgrade the new building represents, its children’s section will be larger than the entire current library. While the current library is drab-colored and lit by fluorescent light, the teen reading area on the second floor of the new library will feature a funky purple and orange design scheme, coffee shop booths, and a view of the Plott Balsams.
Jackson County Librarian Dottie Brunette, was inspired to become a librarian by her mother, Ada Moody Brunette, and by long-time county librarian Sadie Luck. Brunette said touring the construction site left her awe-struck.
“My mother, who’s the reason I’m a librarian, is hugging herself somewhere,” Brunette said.
Fundraising nears home stretch
The Friends of the Library is 90 percent of the way to its fundraising goal of $1.6 million to furnish and outfit the library.
As of last week, donations and pledges totaled over $1,440,535.
“It’s been a very grassroots effort, and the community has responded,” said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the committee that led the effort.
Donations to the capital campaign fund may be made at the Jackson County Public Library in downtown Sylva, Friends of the Library Bookstore at 536 West Main Street, through the Friends website fojcml.org, or mailed to Friends of the Jackson County Main Library, P. O. Box 825, Sylva, 28779-0825.