Community leaders glad to see library project move forward

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(Image: Cassandra Sherrill/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As the dust settled Friday from the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ decision to keep the Central Library in its current location, local groups with diverse interests expressed relief that a decision had been made, whether they agreed with it or not.

“ The main thing is to have an iconic facility that best meets the needs of the community,” said Donna Staley, chairwoman of the Forsyth County Public Library’s board of trustees.

She thinks the commissioners were reasonable and wanted to do what’s best for the community.

The four commissioners who voted in favor of rehabbing the current library site listed cost as their main consideration. County staff members determined that an adaptive reuse of the Central Library building on Fifth Street would be the least expensive option.

Staley did not list her personal site preference, saying it was immaterial.

“ It’s time for us to move on,” she said. “This bond issue was voted on in 2010 and the economy has changed quite a bit since that time. … We just want the most bang for the buck.”

Claudia von Grunebaum, president of Friends of the Central Library, had hoped to see the commissioners choose the former Sheriff’s Office location on Third Street. She noted that not everyone on her board agreed with her.

“ Speaking for myself, I’m disappointed,” she said. “I think the present location is cramped, it’s confining. It’s no longer central, really.”

“ Still, I’m glad that a decision has been made,” von Grunebaum said later.

She said the Central Library has strong community support.

“ I think we won’t get the added boost from having a new location. On the other hand, there will be a new library, and that will be exciting for everybody,” von Grunebaum said.

Von Grunebaum wasn’t the only one in favor of the Sheriff’s Office site. Three commissioners supported it, and a number of people wore stickers to the commissioners’ meeting on Thursday showing support for a concept by architect Glenn Fulk to weave library facilities through the Sheriff’s Office building and Merschel Plaza.

“ I was just pleased that the people of Winston-Salem got it and stood up and held up their hand and said they support this, even if the commissioners ultimately didn’t agree,” Fulk said.

Though Commissioner Everette Witherspoon’s support for the Sheriff’s Office site put him on the losing side of the vote, he said Friday, “I’m glad we’re moving on with the process.”

Witherspoon said he has received some calls of frustration from residents who wanted the commissioners to choose the former Sheriff’s Office.

“ You have to make the best of it. It’s done,” he said.

Witherspoon, who serves on the library system’s trustee board, still thinks the current library site will be a very good situation, just not the best.

“ For $28 million, we’re still going to have a dynamic library at the current site,” Witherspoon said.

Some local arts advocates were interested in another location. The Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County recently released a SmART Initiative Downtown Winston-Salem Theatre District Visionary Conceptual Plan, which proposed to put the library near the current site of Winston Square Park on Marshall Street.

Jim Sparrow, the new president and CEO of the Arts Council, expressed some disappointment with the commissioners’ choice but said he understands where they were coming from.

“ I don’t think it really hurts the (theatre district) concept,” he said.

Sparrow said what is nice about the concept is that when other complementary projects present themselves, they can be incorporated into the big picture of clustering activity in a theatre district.

The county can now move forward with the process of soliciting an architect for the library project.

“ I have confidence that they will secure someone who can do a good job and match the input of our meetings with what can be done within a budget,” Staley said.

Commissioner Bill Whiteheart, who voted in favor of the current library site, said the decision was not indicative of any denial of visual or iconic branding of the library. Whiteheart said he expects some exterior modification of the library will be considered.

“ The phase that was considered in the vote on Thursday was exclusively site selection,” Whiteheart said. “Subsequent to site selection, you can then begin to consider design.”

By Meghann Evans/Winston-Salem Journal