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Swain secures funding for library expansion

Senator Kevin Corbin (left) and Representative Mike Clampitt (third from right) present members of the Mariana Black Library Board and the Swain County Commission with $3.2 million in state funding for the library expansion project. Hannah McLeod photo Senator Kevin Corbin (left) and Representative Mike Clampitt (third from right) present members of the Mariana Black Library Board and the Swain County Commission with $3.2 million in state funding for the library expansion project. Hannah McLeod photo

Marianna Black Library is set for a major expansion and renovation thanks to funding from several parties, including a large allotment in the state budget. 

“Swain County and Bryson City are certainly deserving of this money,” said Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon). “This is a great, great project.” 

On Tuesday, Jan. 16, Corbin and Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) attended a meeting of the Marianna Black Library Board of Trustees to present the county with $3.2 million for the library project.

“Our leadership [in Raleigh] has been very responsive to us as far as our requests out here and this was a huge one. This is a big deal. You guys should be very proud of it,” Corbin said in his address to library board members. “We’re glad we can do this, we’re glad this project’s moving forward, but had you guys not had the vision, had the plan, you are an example of how this should be done.” 

Corbin and Clampitt began working with library staff more than a year ago on funding needs for the library expansion. Typically, the state does not fund capital projects like this because counties are in charge of providing funds for public libraries. However, both Corbin and Clampitt made money for the library a priority in their budget requests.

“I want to commend Mike,” said Corbin. “He works very hard, and this was a process of us working together for this.”

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The money will come in two appropriations from the state — $1.6 million in this year’s budget, and $1.6 million in the next.

“Mike and I both agreed we were going to make it a budget priority for us,” said Corbin. “We’re able to put things in our list of priorities. And Mike and I both listed this as a priority for us.” 

In addition to money from the state, Swain County is allocating $500,000 to the project.

“We appreciate you guys doing what you can for us and working with us, working for us. We do honor this endeavor, and we’re looking forward to getting this project going, getting started,” said Swain County Commission Chairman Kevin Seagle.

Dogwood Health Foundation awarded a grant of $414,000 for the expansion project and the library has raised almost $700,000 from individuals and businesses in the area. This puts the total current funding level for the project at approximately $4.8 million. Efforts at securing funding are still ongoing.

“Another good thing about this is the cooperation between the library folks, public money, private donations, etcetera, [which] shows us with the state that there’s a willingness of working together on getting these projects done,” said Clampitt. “Handouts are great, but money runs out. With this particular project, we saw a lot of work that was done with the friends of the library raising money, the county’s endeavors … the joint venture across the board helps us sail a project like this.”

The total budget for the project currently stands at about $6.2 million. 

The Mariana Black Library building was originally constructed in 1970. Today, the needs for space, technology and other community resources have outgrown that original footprint.

The building is L-shaped and the general plan for the library expansion involves filling in the grassy area in the front of the building to make it rectangular, thereby maximizing building space on the plot. Additionally, plans show another wing added to the bui l ding that will be two stories.

“This is my hometown, I grew up here and the library has been very important to me and my education and growth over the years and it’s the same for the students and folks here and not only that, the older generation,” said Clampitt. “You might be through school, but a lot of folks that are self-employed and do projects come in here to have internet or communication, they don’t have any other place to go.” 

The expansion will also entail a renovation of the entire building in order to expand available services. A separate Career and Technology Center will be added for informal computer use and software instruction. The building will be updated to meet ADA accessibility requirements on the site and in the interior. There will be small group rooms for meetings, collaborative projects, tutoring and other activities.

A large, adaptable multi-purpose room to provide for a variety of programming will be incorporated into the new space, as well as a bigger community room that people will have access to during and after library hours. There will be outdoor spaces for free, after-hours internet access and a Carolina Room for reference and study about the area. The expanded library will include a children’s area for reading, a designated space for teens, more computers, more parking spaces and a drive-up book drop.

“The plan was very extensive,” said Clampitt. “It was, we’re going to show you what we’re going to do when we get the money. That makes a big difference.” 

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, Swain County Commissioners were set to vote on a proposal from ARCA Design, an Asheville-based design firm, for final design work. According to the current proposal, the project is expected to get under way in early Fall 2024 and may take 12-18 months to complete.

Library staff hope to remain open throughout the construction process with limited services available.

“Let’s get started with it and I look forward to coming back for a ribbon cutting,” said Corbin. “That’s the good thing, when we can do that, and you can see where this money is being spent — let people know what is happening with their tax money.”

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