CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners weren’t favorably impressed with any of the possible library locations they reviewed Tuesday night, and they say they want to rethink the criteria used to select them.
“It seems to me that we need to think into the future and not build yesterday’s library,” said Commissioner Penny Rich. “That’s why I’m concerned about some of these studies that were done years ago. We know that libraries have changed drastically.”
In December, Carrboro Aldermen put forward three potential sites for the southern branch of the Orange County Public Library: one at Town Hall, one adjacent to the Westwood Cemetery, and one next to a park on Hillsborough Road.
“You have a fire station, you have the government services at Town Hall, also parking and the famer’s market complex,” said Director of Asset Management Services Jeff Thompson. “It would, in fact, be a very complicated development. It would be expensive as well.”
Orange County staff favored the Hillsborough Road site, suggesting the county could collaborate with Carrboro on a land swap that would put the library near the entrance to the Martin Luther King Jr Park.
“There is an enhanced opportunity for synergy between a park and a library facility that includes shared programming, infrastructure and the like,” said Thompson.
But that idea rankled some who say Carrboro doesn’t need to try to duplicate Chapel Hill’s newly expanded library, which is just down the road, also located in a park.
Chair Barry Jacobs urged the board to rethink the design guidelines that call for a 20,000 square foot, free-standing library.
“I do think it is critical to consider the relationship of this library to the Chapel Hill library. If you have an excellent, comprehensive library less than four miles away, we don’t need a 20,000 square foot library in Carrboro,” said Jacobs. “And the more you say that, the more you set up the expectation among people for something I don’t think the county should provide.”
Carrboro Alderman Randee Haven-O’Donnell told the board that town leaders want to look for new sites, with an eye towards to bringing a smaller library downtown. County commissioners agreed.
“Well, since we have been asked by the Board of Aldermen to consider other sites, I think we need to tell them we are quite willing to wait and see what other possibilities there might be,” said Commissioner Bernadette Pelissier. “I have felt with these three sites that surely there must be more options.”
“Parking is a major issue for me in siting this library, because there are a great number of people who will need to use this library that will not be on bus routes, will not be close enough to walk, and will not be close enough to bike,” said McKee. “So I have a real concern with placing a library downtown where I know there are parking issues.”
In the end, commissioners agreed to wait for feedback from Carrboro officials and invited the aldermen to join them for a presentation on the Orange County Library’s strategic plan.