After 34 years, three sites and countless conversations, two governments approved a budget and a plan Tuesday for starting construction on a Carrboro branch library later this year.
The cost to build the Southern Branch Library, meant to serve southwestern Orange County, has almost doubled, from $ 24 million to $ 41.2 million. The Orange County Board of Commissioners and the Carrboro Town Council voted separately Tuesday to cover the higher cost, but not unanimously.
Only five of the seven commissioners supported the final budget after a challenging discussion about county needs and resources. The Carrboro council voted 5-1.
Council member Sammy Slade dissented “with a heavy heart,” noting the money could help the town reach its climate action goals.
“Given we’re in a climate emergency, this project for me is crazy, just because climate emergency represents a threat to our species,” Slade said. “The UN chief recently said delay is death, so it is within that context that I cannot vote as the opportunity cost is life, and that’s what I’m weighing.”
County Commissioner Jean Hamilton also voiced concern about other community needs, including over $ 300 million in school repairs and plans for a diversion facility to help people with addiction and mental health issues.
“I personally think our community has failed many of our children, because we have not addressed the capital needs, and I saw that back when I was on the school board at a time when we were expanding, so we had to build more schools ”instead of repairing older buildings, Hamilton said.
“Now, we’re not expanding,” she said. “This is the time for this community to commit to have decent schools for all our children. We can’t do that without millions of dollars and making tough choices about what we’re going to spend our money on, knowing that these are all really important projects. “
There’s nothing to cut from the county’s capital budget, which pays for big-ticket projects and purchases, and federal COVID-19 relief funding has been allocated, Deputy County Manager Travis Myren and commissioners said. The county already anticipates a quarter-cent property tax rate increase this year to pay for projects that already have been financed, he said.
Project details, changing cost
▪ The three-story library and civic building will replace an 88-space, town-owned parking lot at 203 S. Greensboro St., across from Open Eye Cafe. It would have a parking deck with 173 spaces. Town and county officials are working with downtown businesses to replace the parking during construction.
▪ In addition to the library, the building will house community radio station WCOM, a teen center, a small theater, town offices, meeting space, and the county’s Skills Development Center, now renting space at the Europa Center on Europa Drive.
Council member Susan Romaine noted some residents have questioned the decision to combine other services with the library.
“In terms of cost savings, it is so much more efficient for everybody to be going to this one building rather than each time they need a different program or a different service they’re going to a different building,” Romaine said.
“What excites me most about 203 is all the things, the one-stop shopping of the 203,” she said, from help with jobs, taxes and schoolwork, to emergency shelter, civic involvement, education, and access to housing, food, employment, mental health and addiction services.
▪ The county would pay 54% of the shared costs, and each government would cover its own furniture, fixtures and equipment. The town is providing the land and a 5% contingency in case of budget overruns. The first year of library operations could cost $ 537,670.
▪ Both Orange County and Carrboro could pay their share of the costs with a combination of cash and long-term debt financing.
▪ The commissioners rejected two options Tuesday for eliminating the Orange County Skills Development Center from the project and saving millions of dollars.
▪ The project budget and financing will be submitted in April to the Local Government Commission for approval.
Library, youth center, public needs
A litany of speakers, including Carrboro’s former mayor, begged the commissioners to move ahead despite the extra cost.
Chapel Hill resident Tom McQuiston explained how, after his teenage son died of a drug overdose, he started working with young people facing addiction, mental health and judicial challenges.
The idea of a youth center became a way to support young people, he said, “instead of picking them up as they fall down.”
“That help is urgently needed, so I encourage you, muster every bit of whatever you’ve got to help ensure that both the library project moves forward and that the venue of a teen center for our children – my son’s gone a long time, but I’m still fighting – still fighting for him and for the other youth in our community. “
The project also is vital to Carrboro, former Mayor Lydia Lavelle said.
The site is within walking distance of minority and refugee communities, as well as programs at El Centro Hispano, Club Nova, Inter-Faith Council for Social Service and the Orange County Literacy Council. It could bring thousands of people to downtown to shop and dine at local restaurants.
The situation that the governments find themselves in is no one’s fault, Lavelle said, referring to economic pressure and increasing construction and labor costs across the nation. The town is “using every tool in its toolbox” and has agreed to pay almost as much as the county to overcome the final hurdles, she said.
“If you do not fund this, I fear it will never happen,” Lavelle said.
Commissioner Sally Greene also argued for standing by the years of work and the partnership with Carrboro.
It’s not an insignificant increase in the cost, she said, echoing public speakers who said a library is more than books.
“I’m going to go out on a limb, and say a public library is just about as important as a school, just about as important as a behavioral health center,” Greene said.
“We talk about early childhood intervention, we talk about helping refugees and minorities in our community so that not only will it be good for them, but it will be good for us as a community, because they will not grow up to be drug addicts or criminals. They will not have the adverse effects that we see so often, ”she said.