Swain library dreams of new digs despite funding realities
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.
The collection eventually found a home in a room over the police station. And finally, a library building to call its own, named after Marianna herself, was built in early 1970s.
But there’s where the story ends, for now. The Marianna Black Library is still in the same library building, but has long since outgrown the space.
“We are pushing 45 years later with no progress,” said Librarian Jeff Delfield.
A few years ago, library leaders in Swain County started laying the groundwork for building a new library, including gathering input about what patrons would want and hiring a consulting firm to steer the process. Last year, Dubberly Associates issued a report based on the findings of what a new library should entail.
However, a new library is estimated to cost about $5.9 million. Library leaders continue to plug away at a layout and design for a new library, but there is still no telling when — or if — it might happen. The county hasn’t pledged any money for a new library. A site hasn’t even been selected, let alone purchased.
“It all depends on the county to be perfectly honest,” Delfield said.
However, the county may not be ready for some time. In fact, County Manager Kevin King said the board has not even discussed the prospect of a new library since last year when a study found that the library was falling behind its peers in terms of space and amenities.
The Swain County Board of Commissioners faced major budget cuts plus a property tax increase this year to make up for ongoing budget shortfalls — meaning there’s plenty of competition for extra money and little of it to go around.
Nonetheless, a committee is forging ahead and crafting plans for a new library, including hiring a design firm to draw up the layout of the new library. The Swain library is part of the tri-county Fontana Regional Library system, which for now is backing the effort.
Once a firm is hired, committee member and library Board of Trustee Chester Bartlett said he hopes a first rendering can be completed by early fall.
A series of public meetings were held to collect the public’s wishes and desires for a new library, which will be the basis for the design. Once a design is ready, more meeting will be held.
“We want their feedback for this effort,” Bartlett said.
Also once a mock-up is available, the library will start its own fund-raising efforts.
The committee and library leaders want to ensure that everything is in place for the county when money becomes available.
“It is just making sure we are ready when the county’s ready,” Delfield said. “We don’t want to be scrambling.”
Both Jackson and Macon counties constructed new libraries during the last few years. Jackson County spent $7.4 million to both build a new library and renovate the adjacent historic courthouse. Macon County dedicated nearly $4.6 million on its new library.
Private fundraising played a critical role as well in both projects. Jackson County Friends of the Library raised an additional $1.8 million to outfit and furnish the library and Macon Friends of the Library organization raised $1 million for its library.
It is unknown whether Swain County, with its far smaller population, lower per capita income, and smaller business community, would be able to muster the same level of private fundraising that Jackson and Macon did.
On the most basic level, the new Swain library will be one floor and an estimated 33,000 square feet, with a teen section, small meeting rooms, a technology lab and of course, plenty of parking.
“We are all very excited about this,” Bartlett said.
The committee for the new library has not chosen a location for the building. There is no room to expand in its current space on Rector Street, just a short walk from the downtown businesses. Most of all it lacks adequate parking — one of the biggest reasons a new library is needed — so a larger property is needed.
“There is no parking. Every legal and illegal spot is being taken,” Delfield said. “I’ve seen people drive away.”
Properties looked at include Lakeview Drive near Swain County High School, near the Ingles off U.S. 19 and adjacent to the Sleep Inn on Veterans Boulevard. However, how much money the county can put toward the project and how well the fund-raising efforts fare will determine where the new library goes.
“Ultimately, it will be decided by the available funds,” Bartlett said.