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WATCH ONLINE: Every Breath Sings Mountains provides an entertaining and thoughtful evening

Voices from the American Land — along with local partners Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, the Wilderness Society, Tuckasegee Reader, Western North Carolina Alliance, Wild South, Canary Coalition, Mad Batter Café, Tuckasegee Alliance, New Native Press and City Lights bookstore — presented the Every Breath Sings Mountains event at the Jackson County Public Library on Sept. 23.

The speakers, music and readings drew a packed house to the new library. The entire event was also recorded, and the video is both entertaining and thoughtful.

For those who couldn’t make it, organizers videotaped the entire event. Here are the links, in the proper chronological order.

Part 1: Music by Ian Moore Song and Dance Bluegrass Ensemble, introductions, speaker Matt Tooni
Part 2: Music, speakers George Frizell and William Shelton
Part 3: Thomas Raine Crowe reads from new book; Barbara Duncan speaks and sings; Brent Martin speaks
Part 4: Robert Johnson speaks; Panel Discussion begins with Keith Flynn, George Ellison, John Lane, Wayne Caldwell, Charles Frazier
Part 5: Panel Discussion continues
Part 6: Panel Discussion is completed; Music by Ian Moore & Co.; Credits


Here is some information about some of the writers and community members who took part in and organized the event:

• Thomas Rain Crowe is an award winning author, poet an essayist. His memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods won the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Philip D. Reed Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment for 2006. Crowe’s literary archives have been purchased by the Duke University Special Collections Library. He is a respected, outspoken advocate for the conservation and protection of the Southern Appalachian landscape, her people and her culture. Crowe lives on a small farm along the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

• Barbara R. Duncan is education director at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee. Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook, which she co-authored with Brett Riggs, received the Preserve America Presidential Award. Her book Living Stories of the Cherokee received a Thomas Wolfe Literary Award and World Storytelling Award. The singer-songwriter has also written a poetry chapbook, Crossing Cowee Mountain. Duncan lives on a tributary of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

• Brent Martin is Southern Appalachian director for The Wilderness Society. Martin is a recipient of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s James S. Dockery Environmental Leadership Award. Martin has published two collections of poetry, Poems from Snow Hill and A Shout in the Woods. Martin’s poems and essays have appeared in Pisgah Review, North Carolina Literary Review, New Southerner, Tar River Poetry and elsewhere. Martin lives in the Cowee community.

Western Carolina University historian George Frizzell, Jackson County farmer and former commissioner William Shelton, and Cherokee elder Jerry Wolfe. There will also be “a conversation with authors” featuring authors Charles Frazier, John Lane, Wayne Caldwell, George Ellison and Keith Flynn. The Ian Moore Song & Dance Bluegrass Ensemble will provide music. There will also be a meet-the-authors book-signing reception catered by the Mad Batter Café. And all audience members will receive a free copy of the chapbook.

Sylva library parking complaints subside

The parking crunch at Jackson County’s new library in Sylva has largely eased, thanks to a new sidewalk that allows employees and exercise-minded readers to park farther away and walk safely.

The library opened earlier this summer.  It is housed in a large addition to the newly renovated historic courthouse that dominates Sylva from its strategic position on a hill above town. The new library has been the toast of the town, generally lauded except for a spate of complaints about a shortage of parking spaces within the cramped footprint where it was built.

Also helping the parking cause are library and county workers, who are now officially doing what many were opting to do previously out of courtesy alone — parking away from the library to free-up as many parking spaces for patrons as possible.

“No one has complained directly to me lately about how there is ‘no parking’ at the library,” head Librarian Dottie Brunette said late last week.

The library employees are stashing their cars at Bicentennial Park below the building, and hoofing it up Keener Street via a new sidewalk the town helped build. The county also has worked to improve the access from the nearby 10-acre Mark Watson Park, located on west Main Street, where library parking is available to those willing to walk up a set of stairs.

“I didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space,” said Laura Wright, a visitor from Virginia who drove to the library as a scenic destination at the behest of local tourism officials. “And, the courthouse is lovely.”

Sylva police department to find new home on Main Street

A dire space crunch for Sylva’s police officers has been solved.

Jackson County will give the old library building on Main Street to the town for a new police department. In return, Sylva will give the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.

“One hand washes the other,” Commissioner Charles Elder said in summing up the deal. “Maybe some people will think we are giving too much for a lot less from the town, but it’s not just for (Sylva’s) benefit.”

The old public library has an appraised tax value of $796,000; the former chamber of commerce building was valued at $157,560. County commissioners met with town board members Monday to discuss the trade and voted unanimously to make the deal. Commissioner Joe Cowan was absent.

Town police are strapped for space in the current police department on Allen Street. Fourteen full-time officers (soon to be 15) and three auxiliary officers share just 1,000 square feet. The old library is 6,400 square feet in size.

“We’re not trading apples for apples, I recognize that,” Commissioner Mark Jones said before endorsing the deal as ultimately beneficial to both parties involved. “Let’s help each other out.”

Commissioner Doug Cody said he had some reservations, primarily because he’d prefer to see more retail business on Main Street.

“But I think we can probably work things out since we don’t have anyone beating our doors down to get that building,” Cody said.

County Manager Chuck Wooten confirmed Jackson County hasn’t received any inquiries from anyone interested in buying the old building. The library in June moved to a new location at the historic courthouse overlooking Main Street.

“We need the space, bad,” said Harold Hensley, a Sylva town council member, who added that the swap would also be good for the town and county’s overall relationship.

Chris Matheson, a former district attorney who sits on the town board, confirmed that prisoners would not be detained in that building. As takes place currently, any prisoners detained by police will be transported immediately to the county jail at the administration building, she said.

Matheson said Sylva merchants have repeatedly requested a greater presence on Main Street by town police. In addition to the prospect of now having the department located physically there, council members also decided recently to hire a new police officer assigned to foot patrols downtown.

Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower, in a follow-up interview after the workshop, said there are already rough blueprints drafted for how the new police department would be built. She said the town’s public works department, also currently strapped for space, would probably move into the vacated police department.

Police Chief Davis Woodard described he and his officers as “just tickled,” and emphasized his gratitude for the united backing of town commissioners in helping the police department gain more space.

Popularity has its pitfalls

In the do-you-remember, they-were-right-after-all category, the enormous popularity of Jackson County’s new library has meant finding parking at the renovated courthouse and library addition can sometimes prove a real pain.

So much so, Assistant Librarian Liz Gregg has taken to parking off the hill and walking to work, even while wearing dress shoes and slogging through wet grass. A minor inconvenience for her, she said, that frees up one additional parking space nearer the building for library patrons.

“Besides, I’m here for eight-plus hours. I need that exercise,” Gregg reasoned.

The only real problem for Gregg and others who are willing to walk to the library? The stairs from Mark Watson Park, one of the major sources of extra parking that is located below the courthouse on the backside of the hill, are not in very good shape.

“The steps are kind of crumbly,” Gregg said.

Enter the board of county commissioners, which is now considering what best it should do. County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners last month that to officially reopen the stairs from Mark Watson Park “we’ll have to put in a railing, and assess other possible repairs.”

That assessment is under way.

Also expected to help ease the parking strain is a continuing slowdown in construction work. Those final fixes that always seem to surface with a new project should continue to diminish, meaning fewer workers’ trucks and more patron parking, said head Librarian Dottie Brunette.

Air conditioning has been an ongoing problem, as have lightening strikes and simple electric surges that knock out the computer circuit boards, requiring workmen’s services.

“We’re the highest point on the hill,” Brunette said. “It’s like I’ve told people, we’ve got Lady Justice on top of the courthouse with her arm up in the air just beckoning for it.”

One day, for undetermined reasons, each punch of an elevator button triggered the security gates to sound. That made for an interesting work atmosphere, the librarian said.

But overall, the opening has been gone smoothly, Brunette said. The new library celebrated its grand opening last month. It was forced to shutdown entirely for one day after a waterline break, but otherwise, the library has been open for business when promised.

In all, 402 brand new library cards have been issued, and the library (including the grand opening celebration and subsequent programs) had 8,184 visitors in 20 days — an average daily attendance of 409 people. That compares with average daily attendance of 300 to 350 in the old library on Main Street.

“Before we ever moved up here, there were folks for various reasons and from various points of view who felt that the parking would be more limited than we would like it to be,” Brunette said.

There are two actual parking lots at the library, plus some additional spaces right out front and down off the hill.

Supporters of the courthouse site wanted a library within walking distance of downtown. Putting it there on the hill overlooking Sylva, they said, would avoid sprawl and help keep the downtown area vibrant, and give the iconic but vacant historic courthouse a community purpose.

From the get-go, however, the community and the then board of commissioners knew the site wouldn’t be perfect. There is no room for future expansion. The road winding up the courthouse hill is steep and narrow. And, of course, there is that lack of parking.

A group who wanted the library built at the Jackson Plaza touted the two-acre tract on the outskirts of town as being easier to work with, and pointed at the time to its ample parking as one highlight that should be considered.

Strange at best, tacky at worst — library plaque to bear two boards’ names

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Cody said he was as surprised as anyone to learn that his name would be included on a bronze plaque destined to hang on the newly renovated courthouse and library complex. So was his fellow board member, Charles Elders, who noted last week that frankly it seemed kind of peculiar, even a tad inappropriate, to him.

That’s because during last November’s campaigns, the two Republicans and Jack Debnam, an Independent-but-conservative candidate for commission chairman, were rather free in their criticisms about expenses connected with the $8 million renovation of the old courthouse and construction of a new library annex in Sylva.

Cody was careful to note that he didn’t actually campaign directly against the new library — which, in fact, he didn’t, but he frequently questioned the cost.

Debnam said he truly couldn’t care less whether there’s a plaque or not — the library belongs to the citizens of Jackson County, he said, not to government officials.

“I don’t even know why we have to get into this self-glorification,” Debnam said.

Be that as it may, how then did it happen that two boards of commissioners are destined to have their names listed on the bronze plaque? It will list eight individuals from two Jackson County commission boards, an odd merging of the very men who waged war in one of the most bitter political battles this community can remember.

When it was done, Democrats William Shelton, Tom Massie and Brian McMahan were gone; Elders, Cody and Debnam were in.

Democrats Mark Jones and Joe Cowan are twice designated on the future plaque, because they were and are seated on both the former and current boards. The two men were not up for election last November.

“Nothing is simple in life when it comes to local politics,” County Manager Chuck Wooten wrote Architect Donnie Love in an email dated Jan. 24, which he made available to The Smoky Mountain News. “I suspect with a new board in place when the library opens they will also want to have a presence on the plaque. I’ll talk to the chairman and let you know.”

This followed a query by Love about who should make the plaque, and whether the new county manager was “comfortable with the wording, spelling etc.”

Well, no, it turned out he wasn’t. Wooten, in addition to adding the extra commissioners, removed former County Manager Ken Westmoreland’s name. It should be pointed out that he did not add his own name, either. Wooten said he simply didn’t like the idea of having a county manager, any county manager, on the plaque.

The changes did not cost the county any taxpayer money, Wooten said.

Dottie Brunette, head librarian in Jackson County, declined to comment on the library plaque, or on public speculations she was offered a Faustian deal: agree to the names being added, or risk losing library funding. Wooten flatly denied such a conversation took place.

He was, however, clearly sensitive about talk in the community concerning the plaque leading up to the library’s grand opening. The day before, on June 10, Wooten again emailed Love, querying him about the not-yet-delivered plaque:

“Could you determine when he anticipates delivery or should I pursue ordering the plaque from someone else? I’m having a temporary sign printed for this weekend to head off rumors about excluding the prior board of commissioners from a permanent sign. You know how local politics can be.”

Mary Selzer, who helped head a fundraising campaign for Friends of the Library, said Shelton, Massie and Jones were “the three commissioners who had the vision, and who got the project approved and funded, working with then County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland.

“Without their commitments and hard work, the courthouse would still be standing empty, and we would still be having discussion about where to put a library in Jackson County.”

Massie and Shelton declined to comment.

The cost to the county — and ultimately the taxpayers — for the new library complex was approximately $7.1 million. The total project budget was more than $8.6 million, but the Friends raised the $1.5 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment plus an additional $300,000 to cover campaign-fundraising expenses and to expand the library’s collection.

Selzer added in a delicate step-on-nobody’s toes straddle, “the current board of commissioners did allot money to keep the current level of services at 45 hours.”

Staff, too, was added. The library saw funding increase from $500,000 to $675,000 under the new board of commissioners. The library, Selzer noted, was the only county department that actually received a financial increase.

The delivery date for the new plaque is unknown. So, exactly, is where on the courthouse/library it will hang once it arrives.

Jackson County’s library celebrated at grand opening

Jackson County’s new public library in Sylva kicked off in grand style, with dozens of people on hand to celebrate the grand opening on Saturday.

The library complex and the renovated courthouse cost $8 million, with the Friends of the Library raising another $1.8 million to outfit and furnish the new library.

The achievement, said Doug Cody, vice chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, stands as a visible symbol on the hill above Sylva as a “credit to the spirit of this community.”

Former Commissioner William Shelton, who played a critical role in helping keep the library in Sylva’s downtown area and in approving the needed funding, shied from taking much of the credit.

“It was a privilege to me to be at the right place at the right time,” Shelton said.

Shelton posited the courthouse and new library complex as a symbol of something wonderful, a place where “history, our culture and our quest for knowledge” merge.

The Jackson County courthouse is devoted to providing space for the community, The old courtroom was converted into an approximately 2,500-square-foot auditorium available for almost any type of function or meeting. Office space for the county’s arts council and genealogical society also are provided in the old building.

A giant addition built to the rear houses the new library. A glass atrium connects the two, serving as the entrance to the complex. The children’s section alone is larger than the entire old library it replaces.

Jackson’s new library might be economic boon

Set high on a mountaintop above Sylva, the historic courthouse has long been a focal point in this Jackson County town, attracting droves of visitors and professional and amateur photographers alike.

And with a just-finished retooling and addition of a new, 22,000-square-foot library annex to the original courthouse, many here believe this stately structure will play an increasingly important role in Jackson County’s economic future.

“It’s going to be huge, a huge draw,” said Mary Otto Selzer, a former investment banker who helped lead a drive by the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library to raise $1.8 million to outfit and furnish the new library. “It is going to be a destination.”

Selzer said tourists, even before the opening, have been showing up and asking questions.

“The (courthouse/library annex) has tremendous presence in Sylva,” Selzer said of the moths-to-the-flame pattern visitors are already displaying. “Location, location, location.”

The $8.6 million facility opened Tuesday, with the grand opening set for Saturday, June 11.



‘Such a draw’

Down at the base of the mountain from the courthouse/library annex is the Hooper House, another renovated structure in Sylva. Interestingly, in 1999, during one of the many attempts to figure out how to accommodate the county’s need for a new library, county leaders decide to tear down the historic house down. They were trying to find room for expanding the old library next door, but opposition to the destruction prevailed. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce now has its home in the Hooper House.

On this day, Linda Worley is manning the chamber desk. She is unabashedly excited about the renovations to the county’s historic courthouse, visible through the window over her shoulder as she talked.

“I tell every tourist who comes in here about it,” said Worley, a Kentucky native who married a local boy and ended up in his hometown via a protracted spell in Florida. Like Selzer, she believes the economic potential of the renovated courthouse and addition of a library annex for Jackson County will prove significant.

“It is just magnificent — such a draw,” Worley said, turning as she spoke to admire the building towering above.

Great attention was paid architecturally to the restoration and design of the old courthouse.

Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith, the architectural firm hired to oversee the project, used historic records to return the Jackson County Courthouse to near its original state. The building was gutted during a renovation in the 1970s, and almost no original features remained. The Madison County Courthouse, which by contrast retained its original character, served as a model.

C.J. Harris, a prominent industrialist and wealthy Sylva businessman, bankrolled the $50,000 project in 1914 in return for the county seat being moved from Webster to Sylva. He also used the Madison County Courthouse as his inspiration.

Newly returned to its former glory, the Jackson County courthouse is devoted to providing space for the community, and includes an approximately 2,500-square-foot courtroom available for almost any type of function or meeting. Office space for the county’s arts council and genealogical society also are provided in the old building.

A giant addition built to the rear houses the new library. A glass atrium connects the two, serving as the entrance to the complex. The children’s section alone is larger than the entire old library it replaces.

The importance of community continues being melded into the new structure as well. Along with a continuity of design — which Selzer accurately describes as virtually “seamless” — endless efforts are being taken to weave ties to residents. June Smith, president of the Friends of the Library group, is in charge of one of those initiatives: “Jackson County Collects,” exhibits of the community, will be prominently highlighted in a built-in display area. For the opening, Jackson County resident Dot Conner’s apron collection has garnered the coveted spot.


Planning and leadership

The Friends’ successful fundraising campaign caught the attention of other groups in the region looking for methods of raising money during these tough economic times. Betty Screven, who is in charge of publicity for the group, said the keys were planning and leadership.

“This was a professionally run campaign, even though none of us had (significant) fundraising experiences,” Screven said.

Originally, commissioners asked for $1.5 million to be raised. Then the number went to $1.6 million. Ultimately, as previously mentioned, the group brought in $1.8 million. Money left over will go toward a library endowment fund to help pay for future needs.

To Screven, the most important contributions were in many ways the smallest gestures made  — she chokes up as she remembers the day she was working at the Friends of the Library’s used bookstore on Main Street, and a little girl came in, accompanied by her father, clutching a $1 bill.

“This was her allowance for the week — she came in, and said she wanted to give her $1, because someone else would then give a match of $1, too,” Screven said. “This library is truly for everybody in the county.”

That match was critical to the success of the campaign, and came about as the result of a $250,000 State Employees’ Credit Union matching grant.

“It was very inspirational to people,” Screven said, adding the grant came with the condition the building had to be 90 percent completed, which helped add concrete deadlines to the project.

A core group of about five people saw the project through, with endless help from others, said Screven, a former public-relations employee for two decades for a national bank. The official fundraising effort began in May 2008.

“It has been practically a full-time job for the core people,” said Screven, who after questioning by her sister estimated she was putting about 35 hours a week into the project.

The Friends group used the services of professional fundraisers for a few months to get the feel and structure in place, then took over without them.

“We put the right people in the right jobs,” Screven said.


What people are saying

“The past and the future of our county are visible on the hill.”

— Sue Ellen Bridgers, Jackson County resident and writer, the state’s former poet laureate

“It represents the history of Jackson County. It represents the glory and beauty of learning. It represents the literary heritage of the world. The other thing it represents is the absolute freedom to anyone who wants to come and enjoy what has become theirs.”

— Dr. John Bunn, Co-chairman of the Friends of the Library Fundraising Committee

“The public library was one of my reasons for choosing Sylva as my home in 1986. Our local area is filled with people I like to call ‘frequent readers’ because their wallets include a card for each unique library system. All of us frequent readers are eager to use the new Jackson County Public Library as a research source, a place to browse quality novels, attend community events, learn about regional history, and enjoy the revitalized courthouse complex. The public library has come such a long way. My hat’s off to all the library staff and friends.”

— Dianne Lindgren, library director, Holt Library at Southwestern Community College

“I think it’s an inspirational project that’s kind of taken on even more meaning as the project has proceeded. It’s a great example of what can happen when a community gets behind a project like that.”

— William Shelton, farmer and former Jackson County commissioner, who played a critical role in keeping the library downtown

“I was so happy when the county commissioners decided to renovate the courthouse and build an addition for the library. I knew it would be a huge asset to the town of Sylva, since the courthouse is such an icon for the town. But it also showed a lot of foresight for Jackson County, which will be elevated by the addition of not just a new library (which would raise the quality of county services a notch no matter where they located it), but one that is so unique and special in nature. The combination of modern library amenities with the historic preservation of the old county courthouse shows a local commitment to education, culture, history, and community. I feel so fortunate to live in a community that can embrace the unique, rather than shy away from it. Jackson County is special that way, even though we sometimes struggle.”

— Sarah Graham, former Town of Sylva commissioner, now employed by the Southwestern Development Commission

“‘Going to the library’ always meant an event to me, starting back when I was a toddler. It was even more exciting when the event came to us on wheels as the bookmobile. As an adult I learned that the library could be a meeting place for special events and programs ... and, on ARF days, you could even go home with furry little four-legged reading companions. But now, taking in all the splendor of the courthouse complex, I think going to the library will be a cultural experience, as well as a literary experience.”

— Rose Garrett, former staff writer at The Sylva Herald and now public information officer for Southwestern Community College

“The courthouse is for me the symbol of Jackson County. It defines Sylva now as it did when I was growing up (and when I was born in the old hospital located only a few hundred yards up the hill from the courthouse). It has gone through changes, from red brick to white, from a line of trees in front to a landscaped hillside, but it is still “the courthouse.” Whenever I see someone standing in (literally “in”) Main Street of Sylva trying to frame the building and, as one architectural guide noted, that cascade of steps, I’m reminded of how special it is.”

— George Frizzell, university archivist for Western Carolina University

“My mother, who’s the reason I’m a librarian, is hugging herself somewhere.”

— Jackson County Librarian Dotty Brunette

Sylva makes bid to Jackson leaders for old library

Sylva leaders want their Jackson County counterparts to lease, for $1 a year, the old library building to them, citing space needs and a heightened Main Street presence for the town’s police department.

The Sylva library is in the process of moving to a building beside the newly renovated, historic Jackson County courthouse. The grand opening is set for next month. This comes as Sylva’s 15-member police department jockeys for space in 1,000 square feet the town can allot to it. The Sylva Police Department is next to town hall on Allen Street, several blocks from the downtown.

Lack of space “makes it very difficult to investigate cases, interview witnesses and interrogate suspects,” town board member Chris Matheson, a former assistant district attorney, told county commissioners at a meeting this week. “It is imperative at this point we try to find a location for them.”

County Commission Chairman Jack Debnam said they’d consider discussing the town’s request during a budget work session next week.

The town has eyed the former public library for a police department at least since the spring of 2009. Then Police Chief Jeff Jamison contacted then County Manager Ken Westmoreland at the town board’s request. Westmoreland told Jamison the county would be willing to sell or lease the building, but didn’t specify the town’s cost for either of those options.

That was then, and this is now: Jamison is gone, Westmoreland is gone, and a new majority of commissioners took control in last November’s election. It’s unclear what they want to do with the old library building, if they even know, at this juncture, themselves.

Matheson characterized the town’s desire for the centrally located building as something of an “equity issue.” She pointed out Sylva shares 50 percent of its ABC revenues with the county. A vast number of cases investigated by the town police involve people who have been drinking alcoholic beverages, Matheson said.

ABC dollars totaled $139,890 this year alone in revenue gains for Jackson County.

“What have we done that makes Sylva want to be so good to us?” Commissioner Joe Coward asked Matheson about the town’s willingness to share the ABC wealth.

The councilmember responded she believes Sylva simply didn’t — at least initially when it agreed to share the wealth — realize how significant the revenue stream would prove. After voters approved the sale of mixed drinks at bars and restaurants in a 2005 referendum, sales at the Sylva ABC store went up more than 40 percent.

This 50-50 split between a town and county is an unusual arrangement, Matheson said, and is mirrored by just five or so other municipalities in North Carolina.

Franklin keeps 100 percent of its ABC revenues; Bryson City keeps 90 percent and specifies the remaining 10 percent go to parks and recreation; Waynesville keeps 64 percent and gives 18 percent to the schools, and the remaining 18 percent is funneled into Haywood County’s general fund.

Matheson, drawing on her legal skills to weave a persuasive sticky web commissioners might find difficulty disentangling from, continued gently but firmly pressing for the coveted downtown space. She pointed out that Sylva officials were kind enough to rent to Jackson County a town-owned building for use as a senior-citizen facility — $1 a year for 15 years, and before that, for free. And, additionally, the town provided a building to house the chamber of commerce — again, Matheson noted, free of cost to the county.

What the town offers in return for the old library building, Matheson said in summation during her closing argument, is an opportunity to protect and serve all the residents of Jackson County who come, in large part, to conduct the county’s business in Sylva. And that could best happen if the space-crunched police department is in the old library; for, she said, a nominal fee a year accompanied by a long-term lease consisting of at least 25 years. And the town will even pay for renovations and repairs, which she estimated could total $150,000, Matheson said, adding a possible enticing carrot.

County commissioners thanked the town board member for her presentation, but did not commit one way or another to her request.

Carl Iobst, a regular member of the public at county meetings, told commissioners during the public-comment session that he wants the town to reimburse the county “a fair and reasonable amount” for the building, saying in these fiscally trying times, $1 a year is too little an amount for such a prize.

A Jackson County library primer

For Jackson County’s book-loving residents, the temporary closure of the public library in Sylva presents true hardship, a time of doing without and intense, shared community pain.

The current library on Main Street closes May 2 while some 40,000 items are toted up the hill to a grand new library beside the renovated, historic courthouse. The library will boost its opening day collection with 24,000 new books, DVDs, audio books and other materials — even portable audioplayers that come pre-loaded with audio books.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for June 11.

Recognizing the dangers of widespread reader deprivation, Jackson County’s librarians, bookstore owners and others have taken steps to help during this long public library drought.

Library cards are available at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University, both located in Jackson County. The Fontana Regional Library card possessed by every Jackson County library user is universally recognized in libraries in Cashiers, Highlands, Franklin, Bryson City, and if you are desperate and don’t mind a really long drive, in the Nantahala community, which has a tiny book facility of its own.

Friends of the Library is laying out the welcome mat at its Main Street bookstore, as is City Lights Bookstore’s Chris Wilcox, who nobly noted, “I’m staying open long hours … of course we do that anyway,” he said.


New assistant librarian

Just in time for a new library, there’s a new assistant librarian in Jackson County: Elizabeth “Liz” Gregg, from Radford, Va., has joined the staff. She graduated in 2008 from UNC-Chapel Hill’s information and library science master’s degree program. Gregg spent two years working in the Piedmont area of the state.


Need a book fix?

Librarians at Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University are prepared to welcome the deprived public-library folks into their institutions. Though, it must be admitted, you might find the general fiction a bit lacking when compared to the choices at a public library. The collections, after all, are geared toward academia. But don’t be intimidated! This is a fine time to take on those classics you’ve neglected to read, or to perhaps to peruse a riveting academic journal or something along those lines. A library card at SCC is free; one at WCU costs $10 a year, you need a driver’s license for proof of residency. Additionally, SCC, keep in mind, in particular is geared toward working-aged students, who rely on the library as a place to get away from home for quiet study. That said, “We’re glad to be able to help people,” SCC Library Director Dianne Lindgren noted.


Rely on the library for Internet access, what to do now?

Well, you can ride up and down Main Street in Sylva and find laptop WiFi hotspots, or you can head to Southwestern Community College’s Holt Library and Western Carolina University’s Hunter Library. Frankly, you’re better off at WCU, which has more computers available. Dean Dana Sally said he’s happy to have the university library help out. “A lot of community members — probably 300 — already use our library,” Sally said. “Maybe this will create an uptick.”  


Got book donations?

Don’t throw those old books away! With the library closed, Sandra Burbank, who oversees the Friends of the Library’s Used Bookstore, is urging folks to bring them directly to the store (on Main Street, so you can pick up bread at the same time a few doors down at Annie’s Naturally Bakery, or stop on the way and get a cup of coffee at John’s place, Signature Brew Coffee Company). “At the same time,” Burbank cleverly added about book givers, “they can take a look around the bookstore.” And, she hopes, buy something, which, after all, goes to help fund the new library.


Want to join in the fun?

Then become a volunteer — Jackson County even has a new library volunteer coordinator, Jeni Silver, who is currently accepting applications. The jobs include tour guides, greeters, shelvers, book repairers, book coverers, patrolling and facility monitoring (in short, all the dirty work we really don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars having staff do). Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or snail mail to: Volunteers, P.O. 1122, Dillsboro, N.C. 28725.


Library recruits readers to help

Jackson County’s library has encouraged patrons to check out as many books as they want — boxes of them, carloads of them, moving vans full of them — to help potentially deprived readers during the library closure and to help the library: because, of course, it then will have fewer to move.

Darlene and Isaac Melcher, children Bela, age 1, and Audrey, age 3, took advantage of the library’s largesse one day last week. The couple filled a diaper box and a cloth bag with children’s books, from 60 to 100, in expectations of a month at least without access to the children’s collection.

“They love being read to,” Darlene Melcher said. “They like story time.”

Of course, while Bela is big on pictures Audrey has recently moved on to enjoying a read-aloud narrative, meaning two sets of books instead of one were necessary to sustain the young family.

Who exactly will pay for all that electricity?

With Jackson County set to take possession next month of the renovated historic courthouse and new library, commissioners agreed it’s high time to get some ground rules in place for their future tenants.

The county wants formalized agreements not only with Fontana Regional Library, but also with three nonprofits promised space in the historic courthouse: the arts council, genealogical society and the historical society, so that there is “a written understanding on how that building would be used,” County Manager Chuck Wooten said, “and no misunderstandings.”

Jackson County has been grappling with how to pay for the extra overhead associated with the new and bigger library, plus the renovated historic courthouse, in this time of budget restraints. Bigger heating and cooling bills, higher liability insurance and more janitors could cost the county an extra $70,000 to $90,000, Wooten estimated previously.

The three community groups offered space in the historic courthouse had not been asked to share in overhead previously.

“Their understanding is there was no expectation on them to compensate the county in anyway for the space they occupied,” Wooten said of discussions he’s had with those groups involved, adding that he’s putting together a usage and utilities reimbursement proposal based on square-footage usage.

Wooten also raised concerns about liability insurance.

Commissioners agreed that Doug Cody, Mark Jones and Wooten would meet with the other parties involved to reach an understanding.

In other library-related news, Wooten said the county would use a moving company to cart the books and other items from the old building to the new library.

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