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Wednesday, 18 February 2009 19:06

A long and winding road

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Sylva’s current library opened in 1970 and is 6,400 square feet. The debate over where to locate a new library lasted more than eight years, with commissioners finally deciding to build it as an attachment to the historic and beloved Jackson County Courthouse.

• 1999 – County leaders decide to tear down the historic Hooper House on Main Street to expand the library, but opposition mounts among those who want to save the historic structure.

• Dec. 2000 — Those fighting to save the Hooper House prevail. Renovation to the Hooper House gets underway to serve as the home for the chamber of commerce, Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association, and Sylva Partners in Renewal. Library supporters are left looking for a site for a much-needed library expansion.

• May 2003 — The idea to partner with Southwestern Community College for a joint library on the SCC campus in Webster has been gaining steam. County commissioners see the SCC joint venture as a way to save money, but it creates deep division among those who want to keep the library downtown. A public hearing on the issue attracts more than 200 people, most against the joint library.

• Jan. 2004 — Jackson commissioners, spurred by opposition to the joint SCC-Jackson County library proposal that culminated in the creation of a group called Build Our Library Downtown (BOLD), put plans on hold and appoint a task force to select a new library site.

• March 2004 — N.C. Board of Elections denies Jackson’s request to hold a non-binding referendum to gauge public sentiment on the idea of a joint library with SCC.

• July 2004 — The search for a library site has left task force members, commissioners, town leaders, opposition groups, and the Friends of the Library members torn. Many favored the historic courthouse, but it was dismissed as unfeasible. Finally, commissioners settle on a parcel located near the site of the old Western Sizzlin’ steakhouse in Jackson Plaza. The Sylva town board agrees to contribute $105,000 to the cost of the property. The property was purchased in September, but many still oppose the site. Even the town considers it a compromise, keeping it close to town but not in downtown proper.

• June 2007 — Jackson commissioners pledged $4.2 million to build a new library, but the location is again being questioned. The board had significant turnover during the last election, with three out of five members being new. Commissioners William Shelton and Tom Massie agree to set aside the money but re-open the debate about where to site the library.

• Oct. 2007 — Library site selection debate finally ends with a 3-2 vote by commissioners to construct the library next to the historic courthouse overlooking downtown Sylva. The renewal of the courthouse property as a potential site for a new library was spearheaded by Commissioner William Shelton.

• June 2008 — Architectural plans for the new library on courthouse hill are well-received by library supporters and project continues to move forward. Cost, including historic courthouse renovations, are pegged at $7.9 million.

• Jan. 2009 — County commissioners pledge to move forward with construction despite recession. Fundraising for the library furnishings reaches its half-way point.

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