At a rather well-attended community forum this evening, Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan announced that the county and the school board had reached an agreement to keep the imperiled Athens Drive Community Library open for a little while longer while they negotiate for a permanent fix. Per the statement, which comes from county manager Jim Hartmann and schools superintendent Jim Merrill:
Following community feedback, the county and the school system will continue working together to determined how the county can provide high-quality public library service at Athens Drive High School.
While this joint effort moves forward, we will offer public library service on the current schedule until the new school year begins in August. Once classes are in session, we anticipate opening the school library to the public during afternoon, evening and weekend hours until we develop a final solution.
Our evaluation in the coming weeks will focus not only on the short-term needs of the community, but also how we intend to offer public library service in this area for years to come.
As part of the review process, we will bring staff together from both the county and the school system to re-evaluate ideas, options and costs. Based on previous reviews by school and county staff, higher standards and new security enhancements will be required under any new agreements.
We are committed to effectively involving the public in this process as well all work together to generate a solution.
Frank Cope, the county’s community services director, told the assembled that negotiations with the school system would begin in earnest next week.
Most in the audience saw this as a positive first step—after all, just a few weeks ago the library looked to be closing permanently—but only as a first step. Throughout the meeting’s nearly two hours, speaker and speaker related what the library meant to students, the community and them personally. (Only two lobbied against maintaining the status quo: One, a nurse named Karin Evanoff, who serves on Gov. McCrory’s school safety committee, fretted that people had been escorted off campus and that her 16-year-old daughter had been hit on in the library by older men. She supported keeping the library open in non-school hours. The other, whose name I didn’t catch, apparently doesn’t like taxes being spent on libraries.) They complained that longtime branch staffers had been let go. They chided county officials for the way their original decision was announced to the public. And they implored the county to figure out some way to keep the library where it is and open all day, even when school was in session.
By the end of the meeting, the three commissioners in attendance—Sullivan, John Burns and Matt Calabria—had all signaled their support for keeping the library in place, provided mutually beneficial security arrangements can be made. As Burns pointed out, even if there haven’t been any major security issues related to the library, it only takes once for something to go horribly wrong, and even if that’s a one in a million shot, it’s still worth taking seriously.
“We will reach a resolution on this,” Burns said. “I can’t promise you right now it will be exactly what you want.”
The other options under consideration are leasing new library space, building a new library in the neighborhood, or operating the library during non-school hours.
Look for more on this blog and in next week’s issue.