Citizens balk at proposed new library

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, June 9, 2010

GATESVILLE – At their night meeting last month, the Gates County Board of Commissioners approved the preparation and release of a request for qualifications for architectural services for possibly building a new public library.

That decision was met with some measure of dissent here last week when the board convened in their regularly scheduled June 2 meeting.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several county citizens questioned the need for a new library.

“Before a library is approved, and I know you are just researching it right now, I would like to know the foot traffic at the (current) library; the computer use (there),” stated Penny Heishman.

She continued, “I understand there is an empowerment center down in the southern end of the county that has computer access. The computers are the main draw of the library now; if so, aren’t there government offices around here that have (computer) access. I understand the Department of Social Services has a community computer for people to use…how much is that one used?”

Heishman concluded by saying, “My main concern is how much is it (the library) used right now. How feasible is it to build a new library? Does the library offer programs; how many people attend those programs? This is something that needs to be researched before we borrow money for a library.”

John Hora, who won the May Primary for the District 2 Commissioner’s seat and faces no Republican opposition in November, presented his version of a capital investment proposal for a new library. His version of the numbers showed a far greater investment than what county officials estimated the costs at their May meeting.

“Education is extremely important to me; it gives you power,” Hora stressed. “It’s not that I’m against the library, but I also think this is not quite practical. It kind of bothered me at the last night meeting (of the commissioners, one held May 17) where I asked how much it (a proposed new library) would cost and no one seemed to have a really good handle on that.”

Hora added, “How many people think that 100 people a day use the library? Does anybody believe that? My granddaughter uses that place and it has good programs, but it’s just not a good thing in this economic environment. I do want a library, but I don’t want one today.”

Milton Carter told the commissioners that he spends quite a bit of time at the library on the computers.

“They have a filtering system on the computers that doesn’t allow you access to quite a few websites,” he said. “Facebook is totally blocked off. All of the TV stations with Facebook pages, you can’t access them.”

Carter said he sent a letter to Gary Hoyle (Director of the Albemarle Regional Library system, under which the Gates County Library operates) asking about the computer access limitations.

“He sent me a letter back, saying that social networking is not allowed there,” Carter said. “That’s a violation of the Constitution of North Carolina and a violation of the Constitution of the United States for freedom of speech. I don’t think you should give a million dollars to someone that is flagrantly breaking the law. I’ve put in a complaint with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and I’m waiting for a lawyer to get back to me on this.”

In Hoyle’s letter, a copy of which Carter provided to the Gates County Index, he stated that access to social networking sites by the public is a drain on the network resources of the libraries. He said it also increases the incidence of malware, spam, phishing, security breaches and viruses on the public computers.

In response to the library issue, Graham Twine, Chairman of the Gates County Commissioners, promised more discussion.

“We’re going to start talking about the library on a regular basis,” Twine said during his remarks. “We will have some citizens’ meetings…bring them in and get their comments.”

Twine added, “I don’t like the thoughts and ideas that we’re doing this blindly. Once we have some concrete numbers, it will be a whole lot easier to do a capitalization (proposal). There’s a process to do everything. In July, we’ll be able to start to hand some things out and receive citizen comments so we’ll know exactly what direction we need to go in this.”

The current Gates County Library is housed in the old Gates County Courthouse, one constructed in 1836. That building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, currently has several structural problems, not uncommon for a building nearly 175 years old.

It has been determined that renovations to the current library are not feasible, leading county officials to look at the possibility of constructing a new 7,800 square foot facility at an estimated cost of $975,000.