The W-S Central Library Has Been Closed For 2 Long Years; The Wait Continues

The Central Library closed on October 15, 2014. That was two long years ago today. The county commissioners let the Central Library sit empty for almost a year before the demolition of the old library began. The new Central Library is supposed to open sometime during the summer of 2017.

Assuming the construction is completed on time, when the new Central Library opens Winston-Salem/Forsyth County residents will have been nearly three years without a central branch. That’s a long time to wait for a project that was approved by Forsyth County voters overwhelmingly approved in November, 2010.

The conservative majority on the Forsyth County Commissioners needlessly delayed the library’s construction because they didn’t want to increase the county’s debt load. But by dragging the planning process out and waiting almost five years between when the bonds were passed and when construction began, the Commissioners actually wasted money. Construction costs go up each year. Years of inaction equals inflated construction costs, which means less return on the taxpayer’s money.

Today progress is being made. Every time I drive past Fifth Street I’m encouraged to see the new Central Library getting closer to becoming a reality. I still can’t believe that it’s taking so long for Winston to get a new library. Greensboro and even High Point have had modern central libraries for years now. Their central libraries were built-as far as I know without political grandstanding. But our new library in Winston has been a fiasco, reminiscent of the city’s BB&T Ballpark boondoggle.

Approximately 30,000 people visited the Central Library monthly before it closed. That’s a lot of people; students-young and old, community groups, the unemployed, people without access to a computer. Everyone needs a library sometimes. But that need has gone unmet in downtown Winston for the last two years.

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The old Central Library’s last day October 15, 2014.

Computers, instead of making libraries obsolete, have made libraries all the more important. A library is a vast collection of resources under one roof. It’s also an important space where members of the community meet and exchange ideas. It’s a space dedicated to intellectual pursuits, in a very over-commercialized society. The absence of a central library leaves a void that can’t be filled by the county’s smaller, cramped branches.

The loss of a central library is felt most acutely by the city’s homeless population. The homeless in Winston need a place to go during the day to escape the elements. They need a place to feel human. A library is one of the very few places in Winston where a homeless person can go and feel welcomed.

The excessive length of time that the Winston’s downtown library has been closed is a powerful indication that the homeless aren’t welcomed in Winston-Salem. That’s the only explanation I can find for why Winston has been without a downtown library for two years now and county and city leaders aren’t upset in the slightest. Beyond conservative ideology and budget preferences the county commissioners wanted to thin out Winston’s homeless population.

So the wait for a new downtown library continues. When the new library opens next summer, nearly three years of waiting will be forgotten. But things didn’t have to unfold this way. The Central Library could have been relocated without a prolonged disruption of service. Housing a temporary Central Library in the Forsyth County Government Building is inadequate. The temporary location doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of our community.

 

 

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