Library project moves forward

Published 9:04 am Thursday, September 15, 2011

GATESVILLE – The delay was short lived.

The majority of the Gates County’s Board of Commissioners voted here last week to move forward in the bidding process of the county’s new library. Commission Vice-Chair Kenneth Jernigan put the motion on the floor with a suggestion that the county cap the project at $1.5 million. He was joined in the 3-2 majority vote by Commission Chairman Graham Twine and Commissioner Jack Owens to proceed with the plans. Commissioners Henry Jordan and Johnny Hora voted against the measure.

It was at a special called meeting on Aug. 15 that the board, in a 3-2 vote (Jernigan, Jordan and Hora in favor; Twine and Owens against), opted to delay their decision for up to 90 days on what action they needed to take on the new library.

At last week’s meeting, the subject of the new library was initially debated during the public comments portion of the meeting. There, Earl Rountree of Sunbury alleged there is too much misinformation floating among the public in regards to the square footage needed for the library. He suggested the formation of a committee, consisting of public officials and private citizens, to study that issue.

“I think we can build a nice library for a million dollars or a million one, we don’t need to spend a million seven,” Rountree said.

Owens responded to Rountree’s comments, saying that the architectural firm hired by the county to design the library has met with the Gates County Public Library staff as well as the County Manager and the commissioners.

“We’ve gone through a five to six page document about things, the size of each area, that you normally see in a library,” Owens said. “We’ve addressed each one with what would be a likely amount of square footage. The architects took that information and came up with a rough draft of what size library they thought we needed. It (the size) was refined (8,100 square feet) after a second meeting. Now what we’re doing is that sometime in the new future this construction project will be bidded out and then we’ll be able to look and say that’s too much money. After we get those bids in we’ll be able to say we need to drop back to a 7,500 square foot library and re-bid that. We can keep going until we have something (price) we feel comfortable with, but at the same time something that is worthy of our citizens of Gates County.”

Hora mentioned the initial discussion last year over the price of the library, saying it was estimated at $975,000.

“That was what was on the table in March or April of last year and now we’ve escalated to $1.7 million,” Hora said. “We need a new library, but we don’t need a Cadillac, we can have a Ford. I’m not trying to shoot down a new library, we need one, but I am a practical businessman, making sound and reasonable business decisions that are justified by the facts to support a decision. That was not done here. We went out and committed seventy some thousand dollars (on an architect) and haven’t done the front end of the process. You need to do your research before making an investment.”

In the old business portion of last week’s meeting, Jernigan motioned to proceed with the bidding process of the new library.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the last 30 days considering what our actions need to be regarding the future of the Gates County Library,” Jernigan said. “I’ve thought about it; I said from the beginning we need a library and I still say that. A new library will be for our citizens, therefore I motion that we advised LS3P (the project’s architect) to conclude their design, move forward with the bid documents and all other steps necessary to make this project move forward.”

Jernigan added, “This motion also includes instructions for the finance director to release their request for proposals for the financing of the new library. I also want to put a cap on this new library, not spending more than $1.5 million. That’s a gracious plenty. I feel like we can get it cheaper than that with the design we have already. If not, when the bids come in, somebody on the architectural firm will have to reduce (the size) some things and re-drew the plans to keep it within that figure.”

Hora said if the vote on the motion could be briefly postponed, he wanted to make a public presentation on the findings of his vast research into the statistical data he’s complied on the current Gates County Library as well as those within the Albemarle Regional Library system.

“I made a motion last time to move forward in approving $975,000 (to build the library) but nobody wanted to take on it,” Hora said. “There is some pertinent statistical data to show what we’re dealing with. I would respectfully ask that it be presented to the public now, not after the fact. I don’t have a problem with this motion, but let’s wait until after October 1 until we do this. All the facts need to be on the table. Let’s do this the right way and not shove this down someone’s throat.”

Hora said his research into the usage of the current Gates County library reveals that, on average, only 10.12 percent (845 people) of the county’s voting age public have used the library in the last two years; 703 individuals, over a 10-year period, registered to use the library and never went back; of the 845 people using the library they made 56,000 transactions over a two-year period (adding that $3.12 is spent per transaction); and of the 4,599 Gates County residents that hold a library card, 4,194 actually went to the library.

He went on to say that Bertie County’s public library has 4,132 square feet; Hertford County’s library is 5,000 square feet and there is a 6,000 square foot public library serving Northampton County….“and we want one that is 8,100 square foot,” Hora stated. “Those three counties I mentioned each have over 20,000 residents; we have 12,197. We need a new library, but I will not spend your tax dollars unwisely. We started at $975,000 and it has blown to $1.7 million. There are some other economical options to do this.”

“We have to do something about our library, but we decided at our last meeting to delay this decision for 90 days,” Jordan said. “I think this (motion to proceed) is a little premature because we haven’t discussed options, things that can be used as alternatives. I’m not in favor of going forward with this motion. I don’t know if $1.5 million, $1.7 million or $975,000 is the correct number. We need to have the time to hear some other possibilities, hear from our citizens, and discuss those before we vote to move forward.”

“All five commissioners here favor a new library,” Owens said. “What is at question is how do we go about this. I stated earlier that we solicited the professionals that build libraries. We solicited our library staff for their input. We came up with a number. We have to take steps to get these bids out so we’ll know whether the number is $1.3 million or $1.5 million. I will second Kenny’s motion to move forward with a purpose so we can get the bidding process moving. I hope that number will satisfy our citizens.”

“Why would you waste someone’s time in the bidding process when you haven’t established the real groundwork and everyone up here was in total agreement,” Hora quizzed Owens.

“That is part of the information we need, that is one of the missing pieces to the puzzle,” Owens responded. “We have to go through this (bidding) process so we’ll know the real cost. When we have that information we can redesign the building if need be.”

“If LS3P is saying that an 8,100 square foot library will cost $1.7 million and we cap this at $1.5 million, they’ll have to go back to the drawing board and redesign this; how does someone bid on something that we’re capping,” Jordan asked.

“The bid price is $1.683 million, but that’s with three or four options that we haven’t agreed to,” Owens said. “The base bid price is in the neighborhood of $1.365 million.”

Hora added that a letter from the Town of Gatesville also addressed the new library, regarding where it will be built (on property given to the county by the development firm now turning land near Gates County High School into the Merchants Commerce Center).  He said there was a gentleman in Gatesville willing to swap property titles, thus allowing the new library to remain within the municipality’s borders.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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