Town Council opens meeting for library discussion
In an effort to continue discussion on the future plans of the Shepherdstown Public Library, an open discussion was held during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. The meeting, moved to the Shepherdstown Community Club, drew a packed house for what has become a divisive issue in the town.
Leading off the comment portion of the meeting was Councilman David Springer who spoke on his own behalf, not representing a position of the council. Springer offered facts as he knew them regarding the proposed clean up of the Brownfields site located near the Clarion Hotel which is the location chosen by the Library Board of Directors for the new library facility. Springer also included comments on the Southern States property that has come into play the discussion of a new library since the Knode family closed the business last year.
Springer sees an in-town location of the library as essential to maintaining the central core of the town.
“Removing a core service from the town center is counter to Smart growth and walkable cities principles. It would require most town residents to drive in order to visit the library and foster undesirable sprawl,” he said.
Looking at the use of the Southern States site would keep the library in town, which, Springer said, would be an adaptable reuse of an existing property.
The decision of the Library Board to select the Brownfields location was made in 2010 after the library had conducted multiple public meetings regarding the need for a new library. The site, once the town dump, already belonged to the town, who sold it to the Jefferson County Development Authority for the express purpose of that body seeking grant funding for remediation of the location so that a library could be built there.
The library currently has more than $1 million leveraged in the Brownfields location, according to numbers previously 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.
Kirby said Tuesday evening that the total cost of the remediation has been collected and covered by grants and donations. Those grants have been accepted from such entities as the WV Department of Environmental Protection and the federal DEP as well specifically for the cleanup of the location.
Concerns over the removal of the library from downtown have resulted in a petition signed by 240 individuals who wish to see the library remain and/or move to the Southern States location. Talk of an anonymous donor who was willing to purchase the property on Princess Street was a major part of the discussion Tuesday.
Library board member Marc Wert referenced the donation stating that even he did not know who the donor was. He explained that the Southern States site was considered; however, “the Southern States site does not meet the needs as well or better than the Brownfields site,” he said. He went on to say that the Board has been working on the Brownfields site for years and have received grants and donations for that site. “Would it be ethical to change now?” he asked.
Neal Martineau spoke saying he had at first favored the Southern States location; however, he has since changed his mind. He pointed out what he considered to be negatives of the site including loud trains, potential agricultural poisons from the previous use of the property and the fact that the property is atop a swamp which leads to mildew, something he said is not good for books in a library.
Martineau expressed his opinion that the town will expand in the direction of the Brownfields location.
“The town will expand that way. We can’t stay this size forever,” he said. He spoke about an “out of town library” which, he said, really would not be out of town.
“It is a 15 minute walk from downtown,” he said.
Joe Matthews, voicing an opposing position, said, “To pull out of the center of town, the soul of Shepherdstown, does not make sense to me.” Matthews said that while some consider the Southern States location dangerous because of the trains, a fence would alleviate concerns. He said that crossing Route 480 offers many more safety concerns.
Concerns over safe access will be addressed by a Safe Access Committee which is being formed, according to Library Director Hali Taylor. The committee will address such things as walkability, sidewalks and other issues relating to the construction of the new library facility.
Randy Tremba, a local pastor, said he is a reluctant supporter of the relocation of the library. While he said he does not like change, he shared a perspective of two historic churches moving outside of town limits. Asbury United Methodist Church and St. Agnes Catholic Church both moved outside of the town limits, despite controversy over their moves.
“Those churches have thrived,” Tremba said. “They have become regional rather than town,” he siad. “We need to welcome change,” he continued. “We do not live in a museum but in a vibrant, dynamic community.”
Wirt told audience members that he sees “the white elephant in the room” as being the proposed Rumsey Green development proposed for the west end of town.
“People are fearful of this development rather than the library,” he said. “People are seeing the library as a possible anchor for this development,” he continued.
Mike Austin sought “due diligence” from the parties involved saying that all proposals should be considered carefully to reach a consensus.
Speaking on behalf of the West Virginia Library Commission was John Myrick, director of Library Development. Myrick told the council that a change in plans at this point in time would create legal liabilities for the library and the town as those entities have already committed to the Brownfields location.
“You can’t use the grant money for something other than what the grants were written for,” he said.
Myrick went so far as to challenge the citizenry asking, “How long are you goint to continue in an unsuitable location? This building (the Market House) was not suitable in 1970 when the library board was created.”
He explained that the library, by WV state law, serves not simply the citizens of the municipality, but 17,000 members of the county. He said that he sees the Brownfields location as “optimum.”
Closing out the discussion was outgoing Councilman Josh Stella who spoke on what he sees as a repetitive pattern in the town.
“People who have had meetings and have been involved face off against those who haven’t known about an issue,” he said. “People finally know about an issue and it brings people out.” He said this pattern often happens after due diligence has been done but that those with differing opinions have not been aware, for whatever reason.
He said that the town must grow to survive and that the a broad picture must be considered rather thant just immediate concerns.
“Shepherdstown can’t be maintained without growth,” he said.
The council took no official action on the library issue although Councilman David Rosen asked Myrick if the council could dissolve the library board or move to keep the library within town limits. Myrick said the town could dissolve the board it had created in 1970 and the County Commission could, if it so chose, create another public library outside of the town limits.
Clean up of the Brownfields location will continue with a goal of having the area clean by the end of the year, according to Kirby.