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County Council, April 16

Decision deferred on site for new library on James Island
Staff to look for more possible sites
Warwick Jones

The Finance Committee directed staff to investigate the availability of other properties beyond the three discussed last night for siting a new public library on James Island. It was to report back within 30 days. The decision was a logical step in our view in the light of the public hearing and discussion. The discussion of the Committee was along a circuitous route over which there was much disagreement. The final motion, proposed by Chairman Summey passed with only Council member Rawl opposed. But the motion followed two others that fell short of approval by one vote.

To recapitulate. The Library Trustees, following the successful referendum, are following through on the program to build new and renovate old libraries in the County. Last month, the Trustees indicated that there were 2 potential new sites, identified by Country staff, for the new library on James Island – on vacant land adjacent to Baxter Patrick School on Grimball Road, and the Bi Lo site on Folly Road. The Trustees were looking to the County for a decision. Wait on, said Council member Qualey, James Islanders know nothing of these plans. And what about renovating the old library on Camp Road? Despite the misgivings of Council member Johnson who strongly supported the Baxter Patrick site and thought it was time for a decision, Council called for a public hearing to consider the Baxter, Bi Lo and Camp Road sites. The hearing was held last night.

We estimate that about 30 or more citizens turned up for the hearing and more than 20 spoke on the issue. And the majority of the speakers supported building on the Patrick Baxter site. Interestingly, most of the speakers in favor of the site were residents of the immediate area and spoke of the need for a library and ancillary services, and the benefit for their children. They scoffed at the suggestion that the proposed site was not central, at the fringe of the Island, and that traffic woes along Folly or Grimball Roads would be daunting, particularly in summer. Maybe the location was not central, but if Folly Beach were considered a part of the area, it would be. (Folly Beach has a very small library of only some 300 sq.)

Other speakers suggested the retention and expansion of the Camp Road site, of building two libraries on the island, or looking further for more suitable sites.

The search for more suitable sites seemed logical in the light of a comment made by a representative of the Library Trustees. They had considered only the Patrick Baxter and Bi Lo sites because they believed they were the only two alternatives from which they could choose. Yes, the Library Board is prepared to work with that which it is given, but neither site was optimal.

Following the public hearing, staff gave a presentation summarizing the costs and issues of the three sites. It first noted that the plan of the Library Trustees was for a library of 20,000 sq. ft. and a cost of up to $11.9 million. The options staff defined were:

  • For Camp Road. a) Renovate the 6,300 sq. ft. at a cost of $1.78 million, or b) Construct a new facility encompassing 7,445 sq. ft. at a cost of $4.2 million.
  • For Bi Lo Site. a) Construct a new facility of 20,000 sq. ft. at a cost of $9.3 million, or b) Add to a) the acquisition of near-by building and renovate to allow the occupation by Library Administration at a total cost of $16.3 million.
  • For Baxter Patrick site a) Construct a new facility of no less than 20,000 sq. ft., at a cost of $10.8 million. Because the site is being donated, staff cautioned that some “give backs” of space may be necessary.

If there were unanimity over the issue last night, it probably was opposition to locating the administrative services near the Bi Lo site. As Chairman Summey said, something more central was needed. Fighting traffic on Folly Road, in summer particularly would be daunting. A site in or near North Charleston would be a better location from which to serve all the libraries. The relatively low cost of renovating the existing library at Camp Road prompted some Council members to suggest there was scope for building two libraries. Maybe 20,000 sq. ft. and all the facilities were not necessary, or deemed necessary by residents. Council member Rawl thought that maybe the Town of James Island could be interested in taking over the Camp Road library. But some other Council members thought that sufficient airing had been made of the issue and a choice of the new school site should be taken.

Council member Qualey made the first motion. It said that the issue should be deferred for 45 days, that another public hearing should be held and for the Library Trustees to make a recommendation. The motion failed with Council members Darby, Pryor, Johnson, Rawl and Summey opposed. Council member Johnson then made the motion that the Patrick Baxter site be approved. This was voted down with Council members Condon, Qualey, Sass, Schweers and Summey opposed to the motion.

The final motion made by Chairman Summey was for staff to investigate other possible sites for the school and to report back to Council in 30 days. If there were to be another public meeting, then let the Trustees decide. The motion was supported by all bar Council member Rawl. (We thought there were others opposed but only one nay vote was called by the Clerk)

As well as making the motion, Chairman Summey spoke some strong words. He said that Council members need to stop directing staff and considering he mentioned their names, we presume he had Council members Johnson and Qualey in mind. It was because of this intervention “we ended up with the circus today”. Council member Johnson attempted to comment in the aftermath but she was quashed by the Chair who stated that the vote had been taken, and that was that.

We don’t know what influence Council members Qualey and Johnson had on the staff and their recommendations but it was clear from last night’s meeting, the two Council members were pushing in different directions. Before the public hearing began, Council member Johnson virtually accused Council member Qualey of perfidy. But we have sympathy for the Chair’s lament. Staff should be directed by the Administrator, not Council members. And there is also the role of the Chair to consider.

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