Ahoskie Library expansion plans stall

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 16, 2004

AHOSKIE – Renovation costs proved as a stumbling block here last week where a group of concerned citizens gathered at the Ahoskie Town Hall in support of relocating the Town Library.

Through an agreement with CADA, the old Ahoskie High School will be transformed into senior citizen apartments. The deal also included available space for use by the community. It was that space in which a group of supporters lobbied Town Council members to find the necessary funds for renovation in order to move the library.

The present library opened its doors on Church Street in 1972. It has 1,770 square feet of usable space. However, according to data supplied by Town Librarian Cindy Henderson, a town the size and population of Ahoskie needs between 3,500-to-4,500 square feet of space for a public library.

To complicate matters, the library was inspected on Nov. 3 by the Ahoskie Fire Department. Using current fire codes, it was determined that the occupancy limit at the facility could be no more than 38 individuals, including staff, at any one time. That was a tough pill for Henderson to swallow.

&uot;We have more and more people using the library,&uot; she said, referring to a chart showing that the door count has increased by 30 percent over the past three years. &uot;It was tough to tell 140 children that they could no longer take their reading field trips to the library because we can no longer accommodate them.&uot;

Town Council members made it clear they would like to see the library in larger quarters, but the money to make that happen is a problem.

At last week’s meeting, Bill Farris – representing the Ahoskie School Restoration Committee, Inc. – laid the costs of the proposal on the table. He said the bottom floor of the south wing of the old school was set aside as a &uot;community area&uot; in the CADA project. That means 6,000 square feet of space is available, possibly to relocate the library.

However, that space comes at a price tag of $824,664. The majority ($600,000) of that money would

be earmarked for renovation costs. The price tag did not include furnishings, but did contain a $173,719 credit since the school is deemed a historic place.

Farris’ proposal included two lease options for the town – one priced at $5,244 per month on a 20-year agreement while the other is for 15 years at $6,034 per month.

His figures set off a debate among Council members.

&uot;There is a great need for library expansion and this is a great opportunity to fulfill that need,&uot; said Councilwoman Elaine Myers.

Councilman Ronald Gatling addressed the costly items already on the town’s agenda, namely an approximate $14 million expansion to the wastewater treatment plant and $3 million for a new police/fire station.

&uot;Now we’re looking at nearly $700,000 for the library,&uot; stated Gatling. &uot;Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against having a nice library with plenty of room, but I’m looking at the bottom line here. Why weren’t we informed earlier of the library’s needs? This is the first I’ve heard of this.&uot;

Myers answered by saying that the CADA deal was not discussed in earnest until April, too late to be included in Ahoskie’s budget sessions for its 2004-05 fiscal year.

&uot;I’m not ready to concede on this issue,&uot; stressed Myers. &uot;This is an issue that must be addressed.&uot;

&uot;How can we do this…how can we afford this,&uot; quizzed Councilman Buck Suiter who, as Mayor Pro Tem, presided over last week’s meeting in Mayor Linda Blackburn’s absence.

&uot;We can’t be blind to what’s already on our plate,&uot; added Councilman Malcolm Copeland.

When asked what type of construction schedule the project was under, Farris said blueprint plans are currently due. Construction is set to begin in October of next year. With that in mind, Farris was asked if two sets of blueprints could be submitted, one with a library on the south wing and the other without.

&uot;He has to put together one plan because the project is using HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funds from the federal government,&uot; stated Charles Hughes, president of the School Restoration Committee. &uot;He can’t turn in two sets of blueprints. HUD doesn’t play that game.&uot;

Henderson continued to lobby for the project by saying, &uot;I agree that finding the money for this project is the most important thing, but when did education take a back seat to recreation in this town? I’ve heard today about costs associated with park improvements and tennis courts, but what about the library?&uot;

Gatling promised all in attendance that because Council members are now aware of the library’s expansion needs, &uot;we will address them.&uot;

No action was taken on Farris’ proposal.