Sunday, June 7, 2015

Special Interests v. Literacy

I have lived here long enough to know that, in Charleston County, logic does not always rule the day or the decision.  Budget cuts just a few years ago came down hard on the Charleston County Public Library, then one of the best library systems in the nation.  Since our current director blew in from one of the wealthiest counties in the country telling us he can save us money and move us forward (a song we in the South know well), our collection has been further decimated.

So when he and the library board proposed a building referendum, and the County Council put it on last year's ballot, I had enough doubt in the promises that were made to vote no.  But we in Charleston love our library, and that along with an impressive publicity campaign, won the referendum handily.

Now, on James Island, many in the community are in an uproar over the mishandling of the choice of location for the much needed larger branch library.  And this time, it looks like I can't blame Doug Henderson or the library board.

Here are the proposed locations, along with the current location of the James Island Library (apologies for my poor attempt to create this Google map): 

The shaded area is the outline of James Island.  The current location is surprisingly very much in the middle.  At 860 Folly Road is the large Bi-Lo Shopping Center, with a large long-vacant building; after a Dills Bluff location that was rated first came in with too high a price tag, the Bi-Lo lot is the site that the Library Board of Directors has recommended.  They based this recommendation on a number of factors, primarily cost and location.

But, wait, from out of nowhere, the Charleston County Council has stepped in and decided that they have a better plan.  An empty site on South Grimball Road, way down in the corner of James Island, is the location they are pushing.  Of course, by "they" I don't mean all the Council members, but "they" who are pushing are pushing as though they have more than a passing interest in this site.

But take a look at the map.  Those of you who spend time on Folly Road will know at a glance that this Grimball Road location will mean more time stuck in traffic, less convenience for both middle schools and the high school, and very likely too many people opting not to drop by with their kids or to browse the books and dvd's.  It is pretty much as out of the way as you can get and still be on James Island.

So what's the deal here?  Rumors are flying, which is only natural given the choice itself makes no sense.  The Post and Courier has noted that residents near the proposed Grimball Road site are concerned about congestion and the effect this library would have on the small community.  There is an historic cemetery adjacent to the property, a fragile marker of the past.  And then there is Folly Road traffic, which for many months of the year can be backed up to the Wal-Mart.

But if you owned some real estate in the area, and property values would rise with the building of the library, you might be likely to want that library built for reasons other than the good of the community.  We hope that isn't the case, but take another look at the map and come up with a reason why this location is the best for all of James Island.

Those who have been following this debate are divided as to what they think Council should do.  Sadly, some are afraid to push too hard for the Bi-Lo site because they believe Council has already made up its mind and no amount of reason will move it in another direction.  Leaving the existing bustling and beloved branch open along with the larger Grimball Road site is an option, although I can already hear the whining about the additional cost.

I concur with the Library's Board of Directors (something I haven't done for many years).  The Bi-Lo site is ideal for so many reasons.  It is on the main road with bus routes, at a traffic light, convenient to the Middle Schools and High School and it is fairly central to James Island.  The building has been vacant for some time and renovating it to build a library would certainly be an improvement and welcome to the community and shoppers.  The library board has already determined that it would be the most cost-effective option.

So what's the problem?  Are some members of County Council trying to confuse the issue by changing meeting agendas and introducing petitions that were gathered from selective members of the community?

The next step is the County Council meeting on Tuesday, June 16 at 6:30.  If you have a strong feeling about where your James Island Library should be built, start or sign a petition, write a letter to the editor or to the Council members (don't worry about who is "your" member, they are all making this decision that affects you and your family).  Show up at the meeting on the 16th, either to speak or to just show your support for James Island.

It may not be that special interests are controlling this important decision.  Perhaps they just believe that they know more about what library patrons on James Island need than the library board.  Or the residents.  Or even from the information you could get from looking at a map.

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