Crozet Library’s floor area and its parking lot are so woefully inadequate for the demands placed on them that the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library should consider closing it, according to a consultant’s report on the condition of the system’s facilities presented to J-MRL’s board August 23.
In the view of Williamsburg Regional Library Director John A. Moorman, a principal consultant with Dominion Library Associates, Crozet Library “is the most crowded facility attempting to provide library service that this consultant has seen in recent years. With its lack of space, substantial overcrowding and restricted interior arrangements the building is a disaster. . . . The consultants recommend that the J-MRL board and administration give serious consideration to closing this facility until a safer and more adequate facility can be found.” The report criticized the parking lot as “dangerous,” described the street entry as “unsafe” and summed up the facility as at a “desperate stage.” It said it is “essential” that construction of the new library, for which plans are drawn, “be put on a fast track” with local and federal funding.
J-MRL Director John Halliday told the board that Crozet Library, with just 1,700 square feet of space, has the third highest volume of traffic in the system, behind the Central branch in downtown Charlottesville and the Northside branch on Rt. 29 north. The most recent figures show that more than 9,600 patrons came into Crozet Library in July, he said.
The report’s criticisms of interior arrangements, mainly the narrow aisles and difficult access to computers, can be fixed, Halliday said, “But the parking lot issues—I don’t know what we do about them.” In the last year, two cars have backed over the parking lot retaining wall. The lot has seven spaces plus one handicapped spot. Crozet librarian Wendy Saz said she also worries about small children being struck as they walk behind cars. Board members appeared relieved to hear that the county bears legal responsibility for the lot.
“We can’t wait until 2016 to resolve this,” said board member Tim Tolson of Crozet. He said that he and Halliday had scouted for an alternative temporary location in central Crozet, but could not identify a possible space or site.
Board chair Anthony Townsend said the smart course is to “build the [new library] now while construction costs are low. The county needs to step up to their obligation for an expanding growth area.”
Board member Gary Grant said that county leaders are hoping that a federal funding request put in by Fifth District congressman Tom Perriello that would cover costs for Crozet street improvements would mean the county could shift its money for that project, about $2 million, to the library, which is expected to cost about $7 million to build now. Where the remaining $5 million would come from is unclear. The parking lot for the new library and part of the new street it will face are being constructed as part of the streetscape project begun in August.
Grant proposed that meanwhile modular units, such as are used at overcrowded schools, be set up as a temporary home for the library. He said the monthly cost for two units, which would total 2,000 square feet, is about $1,000. But, he added, he worried that that solution would “let the county off the hook for the new building. They’ll think the problem is solved.”
Tolson noted that modular buildings are conspicuously temporary. But the board appeared uninterested in modular expediency. “Crozet wants a new library,” Tolson noted. “Use keeps going up even in the building we have.”
In other business, the board heard a report on the history of the J-MRL regional agreement with its jurisdictions. Following a skirmish over funding levels with county officials in the last budget cycle, J-MRL recently learned that the county has begun investigating the possibility of setting up its own library system. “They are doing a study [of the agreement] to see if they are getting their money’s worth [out of J-MRL],” summed up Townsend.
After retracing the decisions of other counties to join the system—all have found they cannot duplicate the services J-ML provides for the same cost—board members were confident Albemarle will reach the same conclusion. Halliday said that J-MRL’s costs “are below those of 90 other Virginia counties” [Virginia has 100 counties] and compare favorably with the costs of regional library systems based in Williamsburg and Fredericksburg. The board decided to take an open-minded approach to the news and to look for ways the agreement might be strengthened. Albemarle County has been a party to the agreement for 40 years. The Crozet branch opened in 1972 as part of Jefferson Regional Library, the predecessor of J-MRL.
The board also heard a report that libraries across the country are being heavily used by people looking for work.