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Commissioners debate the role of public input on libraries

Commissioners debate the role of public input on libraries

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After a lengthy presentation and debate, the Forsyth County commissioners directed county staff to move forward with three meetings in August during which community members will get to give input on potential locations for a new Central Library.

The commissioners got a preview of a presentation about the seven potential sites during their briefing Thursday afternoon, but a lengthy debate ensued after Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt questioned why more community meetings were needed when the county didn’t yet have a cost analysis.

What do you think of the debate over the new library site?

Marco Andrade, a city-county planner, presented a broad overview of each site, including a brief site analysis, parking and zoning considerations and a list of pros and cons.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon disagreed with Whisenhunt, saying, “We have to get the public input. It’s our job to make plans with the public, not to make plans for the public.”

He pointed out that voters had already approved $27 million in bonds for the central library.

“We know what the price is going to be, but it’s our job to always listen to the people and their concerns,” Witherspoon said.

Commissioner Dave Plyler was the chairman of the board when the library bonds were placed on the ballot. He said this is a golden opportunity to hear from members of the public about what they want.

“The concept we presented was, you tell us what you want and we’ll do everything we can to make the dream come true,” Plyler said.

Commissioner Bill Whiteheart said the county wanted to get the most it could for its money. He said a site was not the only element to take into consideration. The type of building needed in an environment of changing technology is key and could rule out some sites, he said. He encouraged planning department staff members to include other elements into their community presentation.

Witherspoon encouraged the board members to move forward and not delay the project.

Whisenhunt said, “I’m not delaying. I’m trying to skip a step. We’ve already had public input. … No matter what the input of the people will be, we’re not going to please all the people.”

The county held public meetings in 2011 and 2012, but Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said those just gave people a chance to weigh in on what they would like to see at the library, not on specific sites.

After further discussion, Richard Linville, the board’s chairman, said he appeared to have a consensus for county staff members to move forward with the meetings but asked them to make it clear that, though commissioners will consider public input, they will ultimately base their site decision on several factors.

Voters approved $40 million in bonds in 2010 to build or renovate libraries in downtown Winston-Salem, Kernersville and Clemmons. The county asked for proposals last year for a new central library site, and five were submitted. The county also has two sites of its own in consideration. County staff members are analyzing financial considerations with the sites and will bring that back to the commissioners in September or October along with a summary of community comments.

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