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Committee wants to start fundraising for Swain library

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.”

The library is currently located just a short walk from Bryson City’s downtown business district, making it convenient for most residents to visit while traveling into town for work, to visit the grocery store or run other errands.

However, the building opened in 1970 and is far from adequate given the county’s population and the services taxpayers want, according to a report by Dubberly Associates, a library consulting and research firm in Savannah, Ga. The report found that the old library doesn’t have the space or amenities that are commonplace for modern libraries.

“It definitely has supporting evidence for the need to have something substantially larger than we do now,” Bartlett said of the report.

A small committee of individuals, including Bartlett, has met with the county to discuss possible locations for the new library. The short list of properties are located on Lakeview Drive, or “the road to nowhere,” near Swain County High School, near the Ingles off U.S. 19 and adjacent to the Sleep Inn on Veterans Boulevard.

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Or, there is property already owned by the county near its newly opened business training and education center on East Ridge Road.

“That is one of the ones that is at the top of the list,” Bartlett said, adding that all the options are within a reasonable distance from downtown Bryson City.

Not including the land purchase, constructing a new library could mean an expense of $2.5 million or $3 million — money that neither the county nor the town has readily available, said Swain County Manager Kevin King.

“It is a big outlay for our county,” said King, especially given its current budget situation.

Last month, an independent auditor hired by the county warned the board of commissioners that if next year’s budget mirrors this year’s, then money could be tight. He advised the board that the future could hold a property tax increase or budget cuts for the county to balance its revenues and expenditures.

Bartlett said the committee understands that the county can’t shoulder the cost all by itself, which is why the library plans to hold a fund-raising drive.

“We are sensitive to the budget constraints that our county is facing right now,” Bartlett said, adding that a fund-raising campaign for a new library will likely begin after the first of the year.

As for when Swain residents can expect a new library, with added and expanded service, no one has set a deadline for completion of the project.

“I don’t know that we can set a timeline because there are some variables that are out of our control,” said Gail Findlay, a member of the committee, president of the Friends of the Marianna Black Library and the retired director of the Fontana Regional Library System. “I would have loved to have it done last year or the year before.”


An ‘insufficient space’

Not much is for certain as of yet, excepting for the fact that a new library is needed.

The report, conducted by Dubberly Associates in 2010, found that library patrons were left wanting for a long list of amenities: reliable wireless Internet, more parking, more books, a cozy place to read, larger meeting rooms and just more space in general.

“The thing you hear the most is there is not enough parking; there is not enough computers; there is not enough room in the children’s area,” Findlay said.

The building, which sits at the corners of Academy and Rector streets, is about 9,291 square feet, whereas Dubberly Associates’ report suggests that the library be about 24,600 square feet —enough room, the report says, to accommodate Swain County’s growing population.

The Marianna Black Library will be the last of the three in the Fontana Regional Library System to replace its aging building.

Last year, Jackson County spent $8 million to upgrade its library and renovate the old courthouse in Sylva where it is located. The Jackson County Friends of the Library raised $1.8 million to outfit and furnish the new library, while the county itself put in $7.4 million.

And, a few years prior to that, Macon County spent nearly $4.6 million on a new library. The county carried the majority of the cost.

Dubberly Associates had consulted on both of those projects as well and, similar to Swain, deemed them unfit to fulfill the counties’ future needs.

In some ways, Swain County will benefit from being last to upgrade. The committee for the new library has communicated with Jackson and Macon officials about how the process of building a new library unfolded.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel here,” Bartlett said.

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