As the Shepherdstown Public Library and its board of trustees plan to continue with its capital campaign to raise up to $6 million for the three-phase library construction just outside of historic downtown, others are trying to thwart the plan hoping to turn attention to the old Southern States property on the edge of town.
At Tuesday’s Shepherdstown Town Council meeting, supporters of both the Southern States site and the current Brownfields property by the Clarion Hotel west of town and others gathered to air their opinions regarding the best location for the future library as well as to urge a thorough price assessment of the two sites.
Council members were issued a letter on behalf of the Shepherdstown Business Association, dated Feb. 23, 2012, lobbying for the use of the Southern States site for the library’s new location. The letter states, “(The library’s) presence is central to the local vitality of downtown and contributes to the overall social fabric. With the use of this property it may be possible to retain the library downtown, expand its floor space five-fold, be within safe walking distance of schools and residential neighborhoods and save money when compared to the the out-of-town brownfield site the library is now considering.”
It is presently unknown what site would cost more. The library currently has more than $1 million leveraged in the Brownfields location, according to numbers presented by Patrick Kirby with the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, who has been assisting on the project. The value comes from community and organizational donations, agency and governmental grants and in-kind donation of the land, which – once cleaned up – has an assessed value of $500,000.
Jay Hurley, proprietor of O’Hurley’s General Store, which sits caddy-corner to the Souther States site, said the library’s presence there “would certainly bring additional life to that end of town.”
Jane Blash, Jefferson County resident, spoke as a proponent of the library’s current building site outside of town.
“I think the most important point here is the money,” she said, noting the land was given free of charge and a state agency will clean up the land, paid with funds granted by the Environmental Protection Agency, a grant administered by the Jefferson County Development Authority.
“If we buy any other property It will cost money a lot of money,” she said.
Though council won’t take action, Councilor Wanda Smith did say she believed a fair assessment of both sites should be done.
Others who spoke were more neutral, merely asking the council to think about what needs to go in the Southern States building, as that area is a gateway to town.
Library board member Linda Shea, who has served for 12 years, said she was the “lone ranger” on the board because “I really do feel really looking and comparing the two (sites) are important.”
But Shea followed up by telling present councilors that “the impact of what’s going to go there, to me, is the most important thing.”
Mayor Jim Auxer noted that while the building is within corporate limits, the property is in the county, and it is his understanding that the Knodes do not want to annex that property.
But the discussion of the potential use of the Southern States site is happening in the midst of a capital campaign and five years after the Brownfields site was deemed the new location, community input was gathered and site assessments and feasibility studies were issued.
In January, library officials met with area residents who formed a capital campaign planning committee. There, the potential donors and stakeholders learned about the three-phase conceptual plans, as drafted by consultant Alexander Design Studio of Ellicott City, Md., as well as the approximate $6 million pricetag for the nearly 16,000 square foot, two-story structure.
Libby Sturm, library board president, said when the capital campaign committee met, library officials and others on the project wanted participants to answer as honestly as possible in terms of the money and expectations for the future library building.
“As part of the presentation, we were trying to establish what kind of revenue there would be in three to five years” when there was a new library, Sturm said in a recent interview with The Journal.
Also out of the planning committee, a smaller group did look at the Southern States site. After a month-long analysis and a presentation to the library board, however, the board issued a letter to members at the beginning of March that they would continue pursuing the Brownfields location.
Library director Hali Taylor added that the committee’s idea was to raise money for a general fund and believed no more than $2.5 million could be raised within the community.
Shepherdstown resident Peter Smith sat on the planning committee and introduced data to the group as to why it would be difficult to raise the entirety of the funds.
According to national giving data, Smith said, “people of all income levels give, but certainly at different amounts.”
According to IRS data from 2008, individual income tax returns issued in the 25443 area code were 3,146 while joint returns were 1,395. Of those 4,541 returns, about 27 percent of them were incomes of $100,000 or more.
And according to this data, the greatest number of contributions, come from those with an income of $100,000 or more.
“I think everybody wants to see a new library. It’s just how much new library can you afford especially in this economy?” Smith said.
But it’s because of this larger price and the location that some business leaders and residents believe the former Southern States site along Princess Street is a more viable option than the former municipal dump site outside of town.
Meredith Wait, president of the Shepherdstown Business Association, has spearheaded the effort to keep the library downtown. Wait, who was asked to sit in on capital campaign discussions, mentioned to the committee on the final day of meeting that Bill Knode, who owns the property, could be interested in selling it to the library.
“Give it due diligence. There needs to be a cost comparison analysis done,” she said in a recent interview with The Journal.
Wait would like to see the library board explore the possibility for six months. If members find the current site is a better fit financially, they can move on.
“I would like to see (the Southern States site) as something good,” Wait said. “And part of that would be the library call me a Pollyanna.”
Taylor said shortly before the Southern States business shut down in fall of 2010 a donor came forward interested in giving it to the library for its new site. Then at a special library board meeting in November 2010, board members were presented with this option. Board member Mark Wirt moved board members and staff compile a list of questions for the donor to “better understand and properly evaluate the terms and limitations of the offer,” according to the meeting’s minutes.
Upon evaluating the site, board members came up with a pros and cons list of the current Brownfields site and the Southern States property.
“When they did the comparison, it did not make (sense to take) a huge step back financially,” Taylor said.
She noted while in the beginning they thought the Southern States site would be donated at no cost by the potential donor, now it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“If we go with the Southern States site, we immediately have a $500,000 mortgage,” Taylor said.
“(The alternative site) wasn’t entertained so much as it was examined,” Taylor said in a recent interview with The Journal, adding that eventually the donor jumped on board with the plans for the new site.
“(The donors are) the ones who withdrew the offer,” she added.
Taylor and Sturm also stressed that the grants that were awarded to the JCDA on behalf of the library, as well as other monies, are not flexible in terms of being moved to another location.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the JCDA, said the Development Authority will not enter into a discussion regarding the library’s location.
“Our role in this we accepted the property from the town to be the conduit to administer the cleanup,” he said, adding requests for proposal are in the process of being sent out, and the clean up should begin by early summer.
“If they decide to put the library somewhere else, the town can decide” what to do with the Brownfields site,” Reisenweber added.
Luke Elser, project manager for the Brownfields Assistance Center, said the two FOCUS grants, totaling $17,000, awarded to the library to do preliminary environmental work and hire design engineers for create concept and design models for the future building, “were funded for work specifically on the former municipal dump site.” The EPA grant, totalling $200,000 with a $40,000 cost share, will fund the “site cleanup, community involvement and reuse planning specifically (and exclusively) for the former municipal dump site,” Elser said in an email.
Taylor said in the meantime, focus will be on the cleanup and capital campaign. But she and her board members hope that after working to get a library on this Brownfields site for the past five years that development can continue.
“I think that people want a new library, and I think that people are willing to raise money to have a new library,” Sturm added. “And this discussion needs to have a conclusion we’ve said what direction we’re continuing to move in, but we need to have support.”