Resolution for library location remains undecided; more citizens asked for input before final plot is chosen

Resolution for library location remains undecided

More citizens asked for input before final plot is chosen

by Andie Diemer

September 3, 2008

After years of waiting, to be or not to be is no longer the question. Elon Mayor Jerry Tolley and the town board have already been given the green light on constructing the first public library in the Town of Elon, but just one problem troubles them: Where to start digging?

The city lobbied for a library 12 years ago but did not get approved, said Judy Cobb, director of Alamance County public libraries, said. The decision to construct now follows the approval of the Alamance County Board of Commissioners to build a new public library branch to serve western Alamance County.

Beth Schmidt Park and Comer Field, better known as Firehouse Field. Photos by David Wells.
The town board has narrowed down the location of Elon’s first library to two locations: Beth Schmidt Park and Comer Field, better known as Firehouse Field. Photos by David Wells.

Although this decision was made over a year ago, Aldermen Mark Greene said the planning process has been intense and has required a lot of community input.

“There’s been some feedback, but not widespread,” Greene said at a Sept. 2 Elon Town Hall meeting.

After careful research and feedback, the debate has been narrowed down to two potential locations: Beth Schmidt Park on Cook Road and Comer Field, better known as Firehouse Field, across from the fire station on Williamson Avenue.

The building program is funded by a planning grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services in conjunction with the State Library of North Carolina, according to the Town of Elon’s Web site.

Alderman Davis Montgomery said a portion of the grant was set toward hiring Phillip Barton, a leading consultant for planning libraries in North Carolina.

In February residents were invited to two gatherings, directed by Barton, to discuss the final touches of the project such as potential locations and uses for the library. They were also encouraged to offer any additional input.

“We’re blessed with having the problem of having two excellent sites for this library,” Montgomery said. “We really, as best as we could, tried to look at all the various angles.”

The Board of Alderman postponed voting on the issue indefinitely.
The Board of Alderman postponed voting on the issue indefinitely.

Sheri James, an Elon resident and member of the appearance commission for Elon, said she is concerned about the university location. She said the roads are already experiencing excess traffic and she doesn’t want to concentrate everything downtown, especially since the town is growing more toward the north.

Also, the park would provide a quieter, more serene atmosphere, she said. But she just wants it done right.

“Apparently the citizens of Elon are going to be paying for a lot of stuff pretty soon,” James said. “I really want a library, but I don’t want to pay extra taxes.”

While a $500,000 private donation has already been made, the only other money set aside for the library is about $80,000 for books, according to Cobb.

The construction plans to ring up to about $200 a square foot, resulting in roughly a $3 million investment by the community. Though the burden of the price tag for the physical building would come from the citizens of Elon regardless of location, the cost of staffing and running the library would fall on the county.

Montgomery said his team researched recently built libraries around the area before looking into the possibilities and weighing the pros and cons of the two final sites.

The board and residents discussed parking situations, proximity to streets, design and architecture, pathways, traffic congestion, how it would fit in with the community and safety concerns for each plot of land.

“[Planned development in Comer Field] would have activity that would allow for a more vibrant downtown: restaurants, ice cream shops, drugstores,” Ken Mullen, Elon representative and assistant vice president for business and finance, said. “We thought a library would be an excellent addition to that. It would bring a lot of people to the area.”

This includes a range of citizens, from Boy Scout troops to Elon University students to seniors from Twin Lakes.

Montgomery said from the 50 or so e-mails he has received with citizen input, an overwhelming amount of citizens are in favor of the park location. He was hoping to hear from more people.

“I think people like the vision of the park and library side by side and the synergy that it ties together,” Montgomery said. “I would have liked to hear more about people talking about the park location. It would be interesting to do a town survey on that location.”

Alderman Ron Klepcyk expressed concern that widening the space by the park in order to construct the building would place the road closer to the playground and community center, which poses a safety issue.

“I think we need to have other conversations with Department of Transportation about those issues to guarantee safety,” Klepcyk said. “That’s really critical in this planning process.”

They also took the land-use plan of the town into consideration.

While Comer Field currently belongs to Elon University, Mullen said the school is eager to share the property.

Similar to the situation with the current fire station northeast of campus on Powerline Road, the university would “loan” the property to the Town of Elon, with a restriction on the deed or a written contract that states in the occasion of the library no longer existing the land would be returned to the university.

The library is also being built with expansion in mind, whether it’s up or out, Montgomery said.

The 13-acre university area, which has already been appraised, would need to be configured for a water and sewer system first, Mullen said. But he also said the university is very close, if not completely ready, to being the planning process.

“If you come to us and take us up on the offer, we’re ready to pretty much go,” he said. “You know how the university works. We’d put 100 percent of our efforts behind that and go as quickly as we could.”

He said when the planning for the field is complete it would take about two years from the time ground is broken to the time the ribbon is cut.

Mullen said regardless of the library being constructed or not, the university plans to develop the land soon.

Since the meeting was an agenda session no vote was taken. Tolley moved to pass putting the issue on the Sept. 9 agenda to be voted for. He wanted to allow time for more research.

“I don’t think that we feel we have all the information we need to make that decision,” Trolley said. “But we really enjoyed everybody’s input.”

Greene suggested sending out a survey with the pros and cons of each location attached to get a better idea of the citizens’ stances.

Cobb thinks the Beth Schmidt Park location will come out on top, but in her mind it’s all about just getting the library built.

“It was denied in the ‘90s,” Cobb said. “Folks have waited a long time for this library.”

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