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BoCC Seeks Revised Cost Estimate For Southern Branch Library

Story originally posted April 11, 2014, 5:02 p.m.

As Orange County Commissioners eyed their five-year spending plan at a work session on Thursday, Chair Barry Jacobs said it’s time for the board to vote on the specifics of the Southern Branch Library.

“We’re talking about $8.2 million dollars and I don’t think that’s a realistic number for what we’re envisioning as a library,” said Jacobs. “I don’t know why we keep using that number.”

The 2014-19 recommended  Capital Investment Plan outlines $1.1 million to be spent on planning in the next two years, and $7,775,000 to build and open the branch by 2017, but Jacobs argued those numbers represent a size and style of library that the board has not endorsed.

“If we’re not going to build a 20,000 square foot library, then we don’t need to fund one,” said Jacobs. “If we have to vote, then we should put it on a regular agenda and vote on whether this board of commissioners thinks we’re building a 20,000 square foot library. Because it was not driven by this board, it was driven by staff. It’s just not realistic.”

Currently, county officials are in the process of vetting an 18,000 square foot site in Carrboro, at the yet-to-be-built Brewer Lane mixed-use project. Although this is the only site under consideration, the board has not settled on a location for the branch, and is actively soliciting input from the public.

County Manager Michael Talbert said the $8 million dollar figure represents a place-holder in the budget that will be revised by the end of the fiscal year.

“This is the best number we have at this point. The board has not revisited this issue since it was originally introduced about three years ago,” said Talbert. “We’re continuing this in light of not having anything better. By this June we may be in a position to improve on this. If the Carrboro location we’re investigating works out, we can come back to you and adjust these numbers.”

Jacobs said once the cost projections are revised, that will free up other money in the county’s spending plan. The board will hear the results of the county’s investigation and the public outreach effort at a work session on May 13.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-seeks-revised-cost-estimates-southern-branch-library/

Health, Safety, Schools, Libraries, And Hillsborough

If you still haven’t signed up for health insurance, the Chapel Hill Public Library is holding an all-day Affordable Care Act enrollment session on Monday, March 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The library is holding the session in partnership with UNC Healthcare, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, and UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance in 2014 is March 31.

For more information or to reserve a time, call the Chapel Hill Public Library at 919-968-2780.

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Are you a veteran or connected to the military? Orange County’s Department of Social Services is inviting you to a new event called “Military Monday,” geared especially toward veterans to make sure they have access to benefits and other federal, state, and local resources.

The first Military Monday event will take place on March 24, from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street. It will be a Career/Resource Fair, with benefit assistance, career assessments, education resources, the Mobile Vet Center and more.

For more information, contact Betsy Corbett at 919-245-2890.

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Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens will deliver his annual State of the Town address on Monday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. in the Orange County Public Library.

Among other things, the address will include an update on the town’s Riverwalk project as well as a discussion of Hillsborough’s future population boom. The town is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next four years.

Members of the public are invited to attend. Before the speech, from 5:30-6:30, planning staff will host a public information meeting on the status of downtown access improvements.

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If you’re a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and you’d like more information on the district’s dual language program, the district is offering four information sessions this spring, beginning later this month and running through May.

The Dual Language program gives students the chance to become proficient in two languages, English and either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The district says Dual Language students, on average, outperform their peers on standardized tests and other student growth measures.

The first information session will be for the Spanish program on Thursday, March 20, at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. The session will be offered in Spanish from 6-7 p.m. and in English from 7-8 p.m. Two more sessions on the Spanish program will take place—at the same times of day—on Thursday, April 24 at Carrboro Elementary and on Thursday, May 22, again at FPG.

There will also be an info session on the Mandarin Chinese program on Tuesday, March 25, from 6-7 p.m. at Glenwood Elementary.

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Are you excited about the proposed new Southern Branch Library in Carrboro? What do you want to see there? What do you NOT want to see there?

If you have thoughts and ideas about the library, come out to a Community Engagement Meeting hosted by Orange County. The county is actually holding two meetings: the first is Tuesday, March 25, at 6:00 at Hickory Tavern; the second is on Saturday, April 12, at noon in Carrboro Town Hall. The first 50 participants at the March 25 meeting will receive gift certificates to Hickory Tavern.

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The Hillsborough Arts Council has announced a partnership with a new charter school coming to Hillsborough this August.

The Expedition School will be taking part in the Art Council’s ArtCycle program, a program that collects new and used art supplies to be used in local schools.

The Expedition School is scheduled to open its doors in August. It’s a STEM-focused school for grades K-8.

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Driving around this month, you might see some new signs on the road – all part of a local campaign to remind people to pull over if they see emergency vehicles coming their way.

The campaign is called “See the Light, Pull to the Right.” The idea came from a town employee, Fire Equipment Operator Luis Rodrigues. Six new signs are being installed near major intersections in Chapel Hill.

If an emergency vehicle is approaching you from behind, take your foot off the accelerator, merge to the outside lane if possible, and pull off the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass.

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http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/health-safety-schools-libraries-hillsborough/

BoCC Looks At Brewer Lane For Branch Library

CHAPEL HILL- As Orange County officials continue the search for a site to build the southwest branch of the Orange County library, commissioners say they want to explore the possibility of putting the library in a yet-to-be-built mixed-use development at 120 Brewer Lane in Carrboro.

Board Chair Barry Jacobs said the collaboration could have economic advantages for the town and county.

“If we bring people to Brewer Lane, it will enhance the economic development in downtown Carrboro, which benefits Orange County,” said Jacobs. “It’s a destination site. They will go there, park their car or get off the bus, and they will walk around.”

County staffers said the Brewer Lane site was preferable to other downtown Carrboro locations suggested by the Board of Aldermen, because a town-owned parking lot at 203 South Greensboro would likely pose access and parking challenges, while space in the 300 East Main development would be too expensive.

A suggestion from the aldermen that the county look into buying the property at 201 North Greensboro currently owned by CVS was quickly shot down.

“The main issue here for us is, number one, the property is not for sale, and number two, we believe the cost to procure the property will be extreme,” Planner Michael Harvey told the board. “Quite honestly we believe the money could be better spent in other forms and fashions.”

In addition to the Brewer Lane location, the board also expressed interest in a site on Hillsborough Road adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr Park, and a site on Fidelity Street next to the Westwood Cemetery.

All three locations would need to be vetted by planners, engineers and technical consultants. The in-depth analysis could cost as much as $15,000 per site.

The board agreed that if technical analysis ruled out one of the three, county staffers should reconsider the parking lot at 203 South Greensboro as an alternate site.

No matter where the branch ends up, commissioners say they want to be clear that it won’t be a duplicate of the Chapel Hill Public Library or the Main Library in Hillsborough.

“Because the Chapel Hill library already exists so close, we want to be clear we’re not going to duplicate services,” said Jacobs. “We’re not doing a 20,000 square foot library. We’re doing a library that serves the southwestern part of the county.”

Officials say the public will have a chance to weigh in after the analysis of each site has been completed.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/bocc-looks-at-brewer-lane-for-branch-library/

Carrboro Aldermen Pan OC Library Plan

CARRBORO- Carrboro Aldermen reviewed the first draft of the Orange County Library Strategic Plan last week, but they made it clear they weren’t impressed.

“I don’t see any point in any way rejecting what is stated here in this plan or this needs assessment, but that’s mostly because I don’t see anything at all in this needs assessment,” said Mayor Mark Chilton.

“It’s like a Hallmark card,” replied Alderwoman Jacquie Gist.

The aldermen were looking for concrete details that would aid in the planning of the Southern Branch Library. The county is currently working with the town to find a site near downtown Carrboro, and both boards are wrestling with questions about how big the branch should be and what services it should offer.

Instead, Carrboro board members said the draft plan offered only vague descriptions and obvious conclusions.

Chilton in particular took umbrage at the document, detailing his criticisms in a ten minute speech to the board. He said the plan lacked specificity and more importantly, did not seem to reflect the values that Carrboro holds dear.

“It sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my mind to hear people talk about doing data-mining and the use of big data with respect to my library usage in order to determine what kinds of services would be provided,” said Chilton. “I’m assuming that probably doesn’t mean what I’m afraid it means, but there’s something about the way the entire statement is made that makes me question did Dr. Chow get who we are as a community at all?”

The strategic plan was part of a state-sponsored initiative. When county commissioners reviewed the plan earlier in the month, they also called on library staff to return with more details.

Carrboro aldermen were asked to provide feedback on the plan, but Chilton and others agreed there was little of substance to respond to.

“We didn’t need to pay somebody- or the the state didn’t need to pick somebody on our behalf to pay to come to what are frankly the most obvious sorts of conclusions about our community. I’m really disappointed with this needs assessment because I just don’t think it means much of anything,” said Chilton. “And that’s sugar-coated.”

The board voted to receive the document, but refrained from officially commenting on it, beyond voicing opposition to any data-mining of library users.

The plan is still in its early stages. Orange County Library staffers will spend the summer fleshing out the strategic plan. It will return to the county commissioners for review later this fall.

You can read the full library report here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/carrboro-aldermen-pan-oc-library-plan/

County Commissioners Call Library Plan Too Vague

CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners received the first draft of the Orange County Library’s three-year strategic plan on Tuesday, and although the project involved 800 contributors and took nearly a year to complete, some on the board said it’s not what the county needs to move forward.

“When are there going to be specific action items to implement these objectives?” asked Mark Dorosin. “This is a very lovely report and presentation, but it’s a very zoomed-out view.”

The study was paid for by a grant from the state.

It surveyed residents and library staffers about what services they value in the Orange County Library. Access to books, internet connectivity and youth activities ranked as top priorities. Respondents also said they want to see greater cooperation between the county library system and the Chapel Hill Public Library.

Orange County Library Director Lucinda Munger said she’s already collaborating with the new director of the Chapel Hill Public Library on how to better work together.

“We don’t know exactly what [that is] going to be, but that’s part of the 21st century library that we’ve all talked about and wondered about, a greater cooperation between libraries in a similar area,” said Munger. “Libraries, no matter what they are or how well-funded they are, can’t really stand alone anymore.”

The draft strategic plan did not address the Southern Branch Library currently being discussed by county commissioners and Carrboro Aldermen.

The aldermen recently added four possible sites to the county’s list of potential locations, and indicated that a site on Brewer Lane in the planned Butler mixed-use development is favored by town leaders.

When it comes to strategic planning, Board Chair Barry Jacobs said county leaders need  more details from library staff.

“This is like the foundation,” said Jacobs. “But we have some decisions to make that are pretty specific and we’d like to do them in the next fiscal year.”

Munger told the board that the draft plan was only designed to set broad goals for the library system. She said she would return with a specific action plan for consideration in late September, along with an analysis of the potential branch locations.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/county-commissioners-call-library-plan-too-vague/

OC Commissioners Commit to Culbreth Labs, But Other Projects Face Delays

CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners on Thursday re-prioritized the five-year capital spending plan in order to kick-start construction on a nearly $5 million dollar science wing for Culbreth Middle School.

“In terms of it being the right thing to do, these labs have been needed for a long, long time,” said Commissioner Alice Gordon, who has been a staunch supporter of the project.

No formal vote was taken, but board members signaled that they are prepared to spend $600,000 in the next fiscal year and approximately $4.3 million over the next three years to build the six classroom expansion.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Assistant Superintendent Todd LoFrese told the board that the extra space will delay the need build a new middle school by at least two years.

“The addition would result in the increase of school capacity of 104 students, which based on the current SAPFO projections would push the need back two years at this point in time,” said LoFrese.

But in order to stay under the county’s debt limit, construction funds for the Southern Branch Library will also be delayed. Though commissioners agreed to spend $600,000 next year on land acquisition, the $7 million needed to build the library would not be available until 2017.

The push to build a science wing for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district met with push back from Board Chair Barry Jacobs, who argued that the plan did not take into account the needs of the Orange County School system.

“We used to talk about equity. We don’t even talk about it any more. It’s not even on the radar,” Jacobs told the board. “One part of equity is treating both school systems with some degree of fairness. Y’all are ready to jump in and spend all this money without even worrying about the impact it might have on the Orange County system.”

He sought assurances from board members that they would support allocating $3.3 million to build an auxiliary gym at Cedar Ridge High School in two years time.

And while both school projects could conceivably fit into the budget for the next five years, Finance Director Clarence Grier warned the board that six years out the county would exceed its debt capacity.

“We can handle it in the short-term, but as we add projects in the long-term, it affects our debt capacity and becomes an issue,” said Grier.

Jacobs suggested the answer to the funding puzzle may lie with voters.

“If we’re going with debt capacity as our guiding principle, we’re done,” said Jacobs. “We are done unless we do a bond, unless we ask the voters, “Are you willing to tax yourselves for other needs? Do you want to tax yourselves for a jail, for park development, for affordable housing, for the next middle school?’ Or are we going to say, ‘We’re done for a while. No jail, no nothing. Done.’”

The board will finalize the Capital Investment Plan at a future work session. The manager’s recommended budget will be presented on May 21.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/county-commissioners-commit-to-culbreth-labs-but-other-projects-face-delays/

Town And County To Look For Smaller Library Sites Downtown

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.

But county staffers rejected the Town Hall location, saying the building is difficult to renovate and the site is already used for many different purposes.

“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.”

Commissioners and aldermen had previously agreed upon those guidelines, but last night both groups said they would like to broaden the criteria to explore more options.

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.”

But while both boards prepared to go back to the drawing board, Commissioner Earl McKee reminded the his peers that the new facility is not a town library, rather, it is meant to serve all residents in the southern half of the county.

“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.

The Board of Aldermen will discuss the library locations on April 9. The strategic plan will be presented in early May.
http://chapelboro.com/news/town-and-county-to-look-for-smaller-library-sites-downtown/

Library Planning, New Tech and EMS Upgrades Top OC Spending Plan

CHAPEL HILL- Orange County Commissioners on Tuesday took a first look at a plan to spend $209 million in capital investment projects over the next five years.

County leaders plan to spend $18.7 million in the next fiscal year on a host of projects including a library branch, communications and technology upgrades and improvements to the EMS system.

County Manager Frank Clifton told the board many of the projects on the list are the culmination of years of planning.

“Some of these projects are eight, nine, ten years old, and they’re moving forward incrementally,” said Clifton. “We’ve made a concerted effort to take projects that were at one time someone’s vision and put them into reality in the past several years. Rather than take on a lot of new projects, do something about projects we’ve committed to in the past.”

The plan sets aside $600,000 next year for design and land purchases to build a Southern Branch Library in or around Carrboro. The full project is slated to cost $8 million.

Next year’s plan also calls for $875,000 to build a stand-alone EMS station, but Commissioner Earl McKee argued that might not be necessary, given that the Orange Rural Volunteer Fire Department has agreed to co-locate an ambulance at its Phelps Road station.

“I will be advocating to push back or remove that first year EMS station completely, under the reasoning that the Phelps Road station takes the place of it,” said McKee.

Upgrades to the EMS communications system will cost $1.7 million, and the board is setting aside an additional $700,000 for other information technology needs.

By 2018, county leaders hope to complete construction on the new library, three EMS stations and a new $30 million dollar jail. The county will also spend $6.6 million to expand the Southern Human Services Center, with an eye to opening a new dental clinic in Chapel Hill to replace the Carrboro clinic that closed in 2011.

According to growth projections, no new schools are needed until 2017 at the earliest, but Commissioner Alice Gordon reminded the board that many schools in both districts are more than four decades old and may need renovation.

“I just think it’s important to underscore our conversation about the older school facilities,” said Gordon. “I bring up the Culbreth Science Lab because it’s been hanging around as an inadequate facility for so long, but it could be the first of several projects that we stage.”

This was the board’s first glance at the manager’s recommended five year spending plan. Commissioners will review the plan at a work session on April 11.

http://chapelboro.com/news/library-planning-new-tech-and-ems-upgrades-top-oc-spending-plan/