Standing on the balcony of the historic Jackson County Courthouse and Library, high above downtown Sylva, Dottie Brunette begins pointing.
Bryson City’s library has storied yet humble beginnings — born from a suitcase of books toted around town by a lady named Marianna Black in the 1930s.
By Doug Woodward • Guest Columnist
What entity in our community serves the needs of every one of our citizens, whether that person is 3 years old or has been around for 90 years? And what place is this which can offer the same level of service to the wealthy and disadvantaged alike? Some organizations or businesses can offer services to a small segment of our population, but only one — our Fontana Regional Library System — can claim to open its doors to everyone.
Many who aren’t familiar with our library may say, “Oh yeah, they lend out books and old movies.” That limited viewpoint usually means that the speaker hasn’t set foot in the library in recent years, and sometimes we even find a commissioner or state representative who falls into that category.
Jackson County commissioners were implored by library advocates this week to give the Sylva and Cashiers libraries a sizeable bump in their budget.
For years, state funding for libraries has been on the decline. But librarians in Western North Carolina are not taking this next round lying down.
In response to a recommendation by Gov. Pat McCroy to cut the state library budget by nearly 5 percent, librarians in the Fontana Regional system put out petitions in the libraries in Macon, Swain and Jackson counties.
Bryson City town leaders have given a verbal OK to the idea of building a new library — but the when, where and how are all still unknown.
“The library is an essential service for the community,” said Chester Bartlett, chairman of Marianna Black Library’s Board of Trustees and leader of a committee charged with taking the lead on the new library. “We feel there is a huge need for this.”
By Peggy Manning • Correspondent
Dave and Judy Russell pride themselves on being among the first in line at the annual book sale sponsored by the Friends of the Library in Waynesville.
The Town of Sylva, in a quiet way, is busy setting a green example for its Western North Carolina neighbors.
First the fire department, and now the new police department, incorporate green, environmentally friendly components. Sylva’s police soon will take over the former library building on Main Street now that the library has moved to a new home on the hill alongside the historic courthouse.
There are a couple of common denominators in these two municipal green projects: town leaders who support these sorts of efforts and Sylva architect Odell Thompson.
“If you can tap into that, you should,” Thompson said. “We do want to do the right thing.”
Police Chief Davis Woodard is a convert, too, adding it’s important “to go as green as possible.”
Green strategies packaged with renovations to the old library include solar cells to augment the electrical system and a solar setup to heat water for showers. Solar tubes, a form of sky lights, will provide additional natural lighting. Some of the retrofitting includes adding insulation along the brick walls inside the old library.
Town council members last week approved $786,500 to fund the renovation. Interim Town Manager Mike Morgan said he believes the project will be ready to go out for bid next month.
The green elements are provided as alternatives in the bidding package, Thompson said.
“Up until the last possible second we can accept them or not,” he said.
If the cost comes in higher than the town wants to pay, it can opt to include the green features or trim them down.
The town’s new firehouse was completed a couple of years ago.
There are photovoltaic solar cells to convert the sun into electricity. To save on heating costs, hot water warmed by the sun’s rays flow through coils beneath the concrete slab in the garage bays where the trucks are parked, a form of passive, radiant heating. The slab retains heat because it has thermal mass, which helps keep temperatures warmer.
Up to eight sky lights, known these days as solar tubes, to bring in natural daylight. The building is south facing, and there’s an overhang to prevent heat buildup in summer and accept heat during the winter.
The men’s room has a waterless urinal to save on water use. Plus the building avoided the use of volatile organic compounds in the paints or carpet.
Plans also call for a new look for the library façade on Sylva’s Main Street. The outside of the former public library is dated, even to the casual observer.
“Our goal is to make it look like a municipal building in a good sense,” Thompson said. “Secure, welcoming — not dated. This, now, is 1970s. We want something that is timeless.”
Architectural features from Sylva’s oldest building, the C.J. Harris building on Main Street that now houses Jackson General Store, provided ideas. The architect termed the creative borrowing as a way of “paying homage” to Sylva’s historic past. This includes a portico entrance, which as it sounds is a porch of sorts leading into the building, plus simplification of the roof canopy.
Inside, the police department will have women and men’s locker rooms, office space and a secure area for keeping evidence critical in criminal cases.
Outside and inside will be updated and modernized, Thompson said, adding that Chief Woodard brought a self-created lay-out for the interior space that worked with just some tweaking. Woodard said he collected ideas from visiting law enforcement facilities in Franklin, Maggie Valley and in Clay County. Plus, he said, his officers had ideas about what would make for an efficient workplace in the 6,400-square-foot building
For now, the 15-member town police, counting only fulltime employees, will continue to squeeze into the current police department on Allen Street next to town hall. The officers share just 1,000 square feet.
“We’ve been in that box too long,” Davis said.
Jackson County owned the old library building, but agreed to a property swap with the town last year. The county gave Sylva the old library building, and in exchange the town gave the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.
No jail cells will be built in the future police department. As takes place now, any prisoners detained by police will be taken to the county jail at the administration building.
Architect and engineering: $36,000
Site work: $40,900
Fixtures, furnishings and equipment: $76,800
Chocolate is not simply a tasty treat; for some, it is the main ingredient for creating masterpieces, and developing the ultimate recipe or concept is serious business.
“We would start in November practicing with recipes,” said Becca Wiggins, a 35-year-old Bryson City resident. Wiggins and her sister, Fran Brooks, 38, have participated in three of the past four chocolate cook-offs that benefit Bryson City’s library.
The duo would begin by flipping through cookbooks looking for unique ideas, and once they settled on a plan, the sisters practiced until they perfected the recipe. And they don’t go for conventional chocolate cake or brownie recipes.
They look for “Something that tastes good but would be hard for someone to make,” Wiggins said.
For last year’s cook-off, Wiggins and Brooks designed a “chocolate-rita.” Just like it sounds, the margarita-inspired sweet is comprised of peanut butter crème, chocolate sauce and a cherry. The dessert is topped off with a chocolate molded into a lime slice that is actually flavored like the green citrus fruit.
“We do more molded chocolates,” Wiggins said. “Something a little bit more fancy.” They have also won with mousse-filled chocolate cones decorated with pink polka dots or brown, white and pink stripes.
The sisters have won three years in a row and now are banned from competing. Instead, they will stand on the opposite side of the display tables and judge others’ molded and baked goods.
“I’m going to miss competing because it was such a creative thing that we would always do, and we would always do it together,” Wiggins said.
The pair at one time discussed opening a bakery so people could enjoy their baking any day.
“But we really don’t have time,” Wiggins said.
Brooks is a certified public accountant and Wiggins works as her assistant. The business keeps them busy year-round.
A common thread among some of the contenders is that their mothers played a role in developing their love of baking.
“We were always interested in baking,” Wiggins said. “We grew up baking, and our mother encouraged it.”
Like Wiggins and Brooks, former competitor Susan Coe began baking when she was a young girl.
“My mother baked,” Coe said.
Now, Coe bakes her own bread and pastries, and that talent helps her raise money for another love — the local library.
“I am a supporter of the library (and) it sounded like it would be fun to do,” she said.
Coe won first place during the competition’s first year with her chocolate mint Neapolitan. She went a couple years without competing because as member of the library board she was ineligible. Coe said she is contemplating participating again but only if she can come up with something worthy of the contest.
“The competition has gotten much fiercer,” Coe said.
Anywhere from 10 to 15 people participate in the cook-off each year, and entries are judged on taste, texture, aroma, creativity and aesthetics. Each competitor is required to make at least 150 samples of their creations for the judges and the chocolate lovers who attend.
For $6 or less, attendees receive a “plate full of samples,” Wiggins said.
“I think it’s an excellent fundraiser,” she said. “It’s something a little different.”
Coe suggested that people interested in attending the event and tasting the delicacies buy tickets in advance or arrive early. There is always a line out the door, she said.
“It’s been a sell-out pretty much every year,” she said.
What: The 5th Annual Friends of the Marianna Black Library Chocolate Cook-Off
When: 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11
Where: Bryson City Presbyterian Church on Everett Street
Cost: Adults $6; Friends of the Library members and children under 16, $5; free for kids under 6.
The deadline for entries to be received is Saturday, Feb. 4. The table fee is $10 per entry type. Download the contest application at www.fontanalib.org/brysoncity, or stop by the library. The judged portion is based on taste, texture, aroma, creativity and aesthetics. Trophies and cash prizes will be awarded.
The Haywood Volunteer Center is looking for people to help coordinate its own Taste of Chocolate competition. The Taste of Chocolate, which will be held on May 8, is the Volunteer Center’s main fundraising event for the year.
Jackson County leaders have decided that tradition is overrated.
Six months after the new Jackson County library opened, commissioners have decided whose name to put on a plaque in the foyer — a spot that until now featured a cardboard placeholder.
The names of two different boards of commissioners will be listed on the commemorative plaque for the new library, not just the board of commissioners who took the political heat when it was built.
“Can we talk about the plagues?” Chairman Jack Debnam asked fellow board members during a daylong retreat last week, a reference to a typo on the agenda sheet that was supposed to read, “library plaques.”
County Manager Chuck Wooten added, also amused by the typo, “I have not taken any steps to order those plaques. And I just need some direction, and it will be a plague I can eliminate from my agenda.”
The tempest in a teacup first burbled to public notice last summer, when Jackson County in June celebrated the opening of its $8 million public library in Sylva, a project that included renovations to the historic courthouse.
Before new commissioners and a new county manager took office last fall, former County Manager Ken Westmoreland had submitted the design for a plaque with a typical inscription used on new-building plaques in Jackson County. The plaque was to list the names of the political leaders who were responsible for funding the library; the county manager’s name leading the effort; and the names of the architect and general contractor involved.
When three new commissioners took office, that plaque design was placed on hold.
Wooten told commissioners that on his own initiative he decided that giving sole credit to the former commissioners wasn’t fitting. The new commissioners were making a substantial investment in the new library by increasing its annual operating budget. Wooten felt the three new board members should be included, too. But Wooten decided not to include the name of the previous county manager’s name, or his as the current county manager. He did opt to keep the architect and general contractor.
“At that point in time, I said, ‘Well, maybe we should take a different approach to it,’” Wooten said in explanation.
Debnam, in typical fashion told fellow board members that he’d rather take yet a different approach, an even more radical one than that being offered by the county’s manager — Debnam questioned whether any commissioners at all should attempt to claim plaque acclaim.
“Well, I for one have an issue with self gratification,” Debnam said, adding that county buildings are “built by and for the people of Jackson County.”
“What did we do?” Debnam said as he expounded on his individual theory of plaque appropriateness. “It’s not our money we’re spending. I know there seems to be a history of doing this — somewhere it started, somewhere it needs to end.”
It didn’t end this time, though. Commissioner Joe Cowan, who in fact voted against building the new public library at the site of old historic courthouse, agreed that both boards should be included on the plaque. Cowan did not touch on his opposition to where the new library was sited, even though he has gone on record recently reminding people that he had been against the site when predictions of a parking shortage on courthouse hill came true.
But that was then, and before Jackson County residents posted record numbers in library attendance and the facility won a statewide award for general loveliness and excellence.
A plaque, Cowan said as he expounded on his own theory of plaque appropriateness, “identifies who was around, and maybe who had the guts to stand up and build the building, by golly — that you are willing to stand up and put your neck and maybe your next election on the line.”
Cowan said that he believed there’s no shame in credit being given where credit was due.
“I don’t have a problem whatsoever with both boards being on there. In some ways, it’s more reflective of what has happened,” Cowan said in summation, still minus mention that he opposed the new library being built as an add-on to Jackson County’s historic courthouse.
The plaque will cost between $1,100 and $1,900, based on whether it is aluminum or brass, Wooten said, after receiving enough of a consensus from the board to combat this ongoing plague.