Macon purchases property for Nantahala library
Macon County commissioners are trying to move forward with plans to give the Nantahala community a new library and community center, but disagreements over where the facilities should be located could further stall the process.
Replacing the current library/community center has been a priority for the Nantahala community for many years, but the project has had to take a backseat to other pressing capital needs. The county commissioned experts to review all county facilities and put together a prioritized capital improvement plan in 2019, but the library project was listed as priority No. 8.
Karen Wallace, director of Fontana Regional Library System, told commissioners during a June 8 meeting that the building was in such disrepair she wasn’t sure how much longer they’d be able to stay there.
“The building we’re currently occupying is deteriorating as we speak,” she said. “We’ve got leaks, the walls are separating from the flooring, we have infestations of insects. The building is literally going to deteriorate, and we’ll no longer be able to operate in that building.”
Commissioner Ronnie Beale said the board received a letter from the Fontana Library Board recommending that a new Nantahala library be constructed in its current location close to the school instead of on the property the county recently purchased.
After hearing from the community via surveys and focus groups, Wallace said it was important for teachers and students that the library remain next to the school.
“We think we’re best able to serve the community in the same location but in a new building,” she said.
In a split vote back in April, Macon commissioners approved purchasing over an acre at 36 White Oak Lane in the Nantahala community for $160,000 with the intent to renovate the existing building for the library. The newly purchased property is 3.7 miles away from the current library.
Commissioners Gary Shields and Beale voted against the measure at the time because they knew the library board didn’t want to relocate. Shields asked Wallace to discuss the issues that make the new property cost prohibitive.
Wallace said the library board had concerns about the security issues and lack of internet service at the White Oak property.
“The building that was purchased has no fiber or broadband service available and that’s one of the most important things the library is used for,” she said. “Balsam West, who is our provider, estimated it would cost $300,000 to bring fiber to that location.”
With the current library adjacent to Nantahala School, the library feels comfortable only having one staff member at a time to operate. However, if the library moves to the White Oak location, it would be more secluded and two employees at a time would be needed. That change would require the board to cut library hours in half, Wallace said.
“Were on the school campus right now so usually someone is around so we staff with one person at that library — it’s not the safest way to operate but we’ve maximized the hours we can be open,” she said. “If we’re not co-located, the risk to staff and property increases. We’d be in a position to be a high target for theft.”
Commission Chairman Jim Tate asked how many hours a week the Nantahala library is open.
Wallace said the library is open 30 hours a week.
“And the new building we’ve purchased, you don’t think it will work?” he asked.
“If it has to work, we’ll make that work, but we don’t think it’s the best option,” she replied.
Tate said it was hard to justify building a new facility for a library that’s only operating 30 hours a week.
Wallace said the library would love to be open longer hours if the operational budget would allow for it. A higher operational budget would have to come from the county’s budget.
Commissioner Paul Higdon said the Nantahala library had been in disrepair for years and nothing had been done. With the library being listed so low on the capital improvement plan, he said he was in favor of the new property purchase because it meant the library could have a new facility sooner than later.
“If we go down the list, the library may never happen, that’s why we pushed for the other building and it’s on a good site — some like it and some don’t — there’s no perfect solution,” he said.
Whatever decision is made, Wallace asked that the library board be included in any future discussions or decisions regarding the project.