Where should Shepherdstown’s new library be built?

By Meredith Wait – It has been at least 15 years of effort to find a new home for the Shepherdstown Public Library.

At least two library directors and many board members have left no stone unturned in their admirable efforts. After they exhausted all town locations, Mayor Jim Auxer volunteered the old town dump located outside of town as a potential building site. Thus was born a vision by a dedicated group. There can be no fault found in that, it was the only option available at the time.

But now there is an equally viable, and perhaps a much better location for the future of the Shepherdstown Public Library that could create its own vision.

The owners of the Southern States property have made a generous offer to the library board of trustees. This should in no way diminish the previous efforts of the library director, board or committees. They have put forth a monumental amount of work and dedication to ensure the expansion and the future of the library.

It does, however, challenge them to openly assess another opportunity and determine, with the input of the community they serve, what is the most responsible and reasonable choice to make for the future expansion of the library. The work so far has been useful even if the library is in a different location. Months of focus group meetings and a written survey produced valuable information about the community’s library needs and those results can still be part of the final project.

It is difficult to change directions on a project. To accept that energy must be redirected is difficult, but accepting the responsibility for the decisions made includes recognizing that there might be another path that would lead to a greater success. This is why the library board should consider reversing their decision to not pursue due diligence on the Southern States property.

The most fair and comprehensive response to the offer is to take the time to exhaust all options and then determine the best course of action. The library board must weigh all aspects of the two sites — location, costs, impact to the community socially as well as economically, safety. Within all of these lies the answer to where the best future site of the library will be. Until these comparisons are compiled and examined the project might possibly stall and perhaps ultimately fail. This would be so unfortunate after so much heart and soul has been put into the project.

The Shepherdstown community needs to weigh in again on this very important issue. The Shepherdstown Public Library board needs to hear from the constituency it represents and to help these very dedicated folks hear the community’s wishes.

The Southern States property could be a beautiful vision of its own and create a grand entrance to town; we just need to apply our collective energy to it. There are several community members who have volunteered their expertise to begin the feasibility study and cost comparison and architectural ideas. They are waiting to begin.

The owners of the Southern States property have already initiated a Phase 1 site assessment to study any environmental issues.

The stage is set, the energy is there, now it is in the hands of the library board and library director to take the hard, but necessary step in opening themselves to the change in course. It is the most responsible action they can take and we need to encourage it.

—Meredith Wait is president of the Shepherdstown Business Association

 

There’s no going back on brownfield location 

Jane Blash – I am in complete agreement with the Shepherdstown Library board of trustee’s decision to choose the brownfield site in the southwestern area of Shepherdstown as the site for our new library.

I have attended about 24 meetings of the Library Project Steering Committee and community focus groups and have been aware that the library board had previously considered the Southern States property and existing building as a possible alternative site for our new library. I believed then and I continue to believe now that this alternative site is not an appropriate site for a library. The brownfield site, I believe, is by far the better location for the new library compared to the alternative property. Here’s why.

During the past year, I have walked the entire brownfield site twice and find it to be a nicely wooded lot that sits at the top of a slight grade and allows for a favorable presentation of a new building. In contrast, the alternative site sits low and is devoid of trees and the general beauty of nature. To me, the alternative site seems more suitable for a commercial enterprise. Furthermore, the State of West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection has studied the brownfield property twice, taking core samples and has determined that the property can be cleaned as necessary to comply with residual standards.

The Board of Trustees has discussed pedestrian safety at both locations. Improvements in safety for children and adults crossing W.Va 480 to the brownfield location will be sought through the Department of Transportation when construction is under way. The alternative site property and building sit directly on Washington Street, posing a greater risk to pedestrians. In contrast, a new library building on the brownfield site will sit back from the road, allowing for greater safety than could be achieved by the minimal strip of ground in front of the alternative site building.

A more worrisome aspect, I believe, is that the Southern States building also sits immediately adjacent to railroad tracks and the railroad crossing, which would further contribute to the safety risk to children as they walk to or from the library or participate in outdoor library activities.

Also, passing trains, possibly 30 a day, would be a major disruption to quiet reading in the proposed reading garden and to business or civic meetings within the building itself. Train noise would make it difficult to host outdoor plays or theater presentations by or for children. If one reviews the more than 115 survey responses and drawings by Shepherdstown students about what they would like in a new library, one sees that children requested this outdoor feature in their written thoughts and drawings.

The main point in regard to location is that the brownfield property is within easy walking distance of both Shepherdstown elementary and middle schools.

While a recent editorial in the Spirit of Jefferson argues that the alternative property provides an “opportunity” to keep the library downtown, I wonder if the use of the word “opportunity” refers more to the benefit of downtown merchants and their customers and less so to the benefit of library patrons. In answering the library project community survey last year, library patrons repeatedly said that access to parking for our current library is an ever-present problem. If any of us, when shopping in town, would begin using the alternative site library parking lot, library access parking, ironically, would remain an unsolved problem

The brownfield property itself belonged to the corporation of Shepherdstown and was given as a gift to the board of trustees and to the community specifically for the new library project. Shepherdstown donated this land to the library; the library incurred no cost for this land. It was given as free land. In contrast, the alternative site property would not be a donation; it is not free. It is private real estate for sale by the owner and does have a price tag.

Although I do not personally know the asking price, I surmise that the cost of this commercial property would be high, perhaps adding another 25 to 30 percent to the overall cost of the project.

Any money offered by an anonymous individual donor to help purchase this real estate, I believe, would be better spent on library programs, computers, interior space and other resources for children. I understand this donor now favors this approach as well.

While I agree that it is sometimes appropriate and commendable to refurbish an older building, I am concerned that the Southern States building, which was originally constructed for an entirely different function, cannot realistically be remodeled to fully meet the needs of a new library without entailing significant reconstruction costs. The building would need to be architecturally redesigned, gutted, reconstructed, and meet new codes for disability access. Old infrastructure, such as plumbing and pipelines would most likely need to be replaced. By contrast, needed infrastructure and building and landscaping materials would be known in advance, adjusted as needed, and pose less risk of a cost overrun for a new building.

The actual total cost of a new building is yet to be determined. That decision will occur through the continuing process of meetings and discussions with the community, the architect, the financial consultant and the board of trustees.

In conclusion, I am very grateful to the corporation of Shepherdstown for the fine gift of town land for our new library. I believe that the remediation of this Shepherdstown brownfield site will serve as a remarkable example of reclamation and renewed land usage within Shepherdstown, Jefferson County and the state of West Virginia. I express my sincere thanks to all local, county and state residents, governmental representatives, and State of West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection agency personnel — especially Patrick Kirby – who have invested much time, effort and personal devotion to the project and, I believe, will continue to do so.

Our current library building and the proposed new facility on a reclaimed brownfield site will serve as tributes to the unique history of Shepherdstown and to the expanded need for reading-related resources, knowledge, skills and pleasure for children and adults alike.

— Jane Blash is a resident of Jefferson County.

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