by Daniel Schere

Central library project to begin this fall @Daniel_Schere

Forsyth County’s Central Library on 5 th Street in downtown Winston-Salem appears sleek and majestic on the outside, but all you have to do is walk inside and it becomes obvious that the place predates the information age. The original part of the building was constructed in 1952 with the back half being added in 1979. Wallpaper is peeling and there are several signs of water leakage on the ceiling tiles throughout.

Plans are finally in the works for the library to undergo renovations some time this fall. The work is estimated to last two years, during which time some services will be moved into the Forsyth County Government Center on Chestnut Street. The administration will be located on the center’s fifth floor, materials from the North Carolina Room will be located on the second floor and computer classes will be taught in a lab on the first floor.

Early estimates had the project cost at around $28 million, but Deputy County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said it is too early to tell what the exact cost or timeline for renovations will be. He said the board of commissioners recently entered into a contract with Frank L Blum Construction Company and the designer is working on schematics. The contract is currently being processed by the county attorney’s office.

“The library that results from the project is envisioned to be substantially different than what is seen on the ground now,” Sanders-Pratt said. “With that said, it’ll be a very significant redo of the library. It won’t look like what the current facility looks like.”

Sanders-Pratt added that the transfer of resources from the current building to the government center will be handled by county staff.

“We’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about it, but the actual logistics of that move is being accomplished by county staff,” he said.

Sanders-Pratt said the library’s proximity to restaurants, BB&T Ballpark and a planned office building make it a favorable location for economic development””a factor he thinks led to the commissioners deciding last year that the library should be renovated, not relocated.

“One of the benefits to being where it currently is, is that it’s already identified as a library, so we don’t have to tell people this is a good spot for a library, Sanders-Pratt said. “It’s the most heavily used facility in the system today. If the county were to leave the current location of the Central Library, what happens there and when is probably more uncertain. You have a 90,000 square foot building that needs significant work, of which the county owns one-third of the entire site.” Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt voted in favor of the renovations and echoed those feelings.

“I think that we can get more bang for our buck,” she said. “We have a limited budget. I think by renovating we’ll get more for it. I think the existing location is already known to people in this area. I think it’s a great location, and I just saw it as being a better fit for our city.”

Whisenhunt said she recognizes the disruption the renovations will cause for some patrons, but thinks overall the long-term benefits are greater than the short-term costs.

“Any time you renovate, if you renovate your own home it causes a little bit of hardship,” she said. “But I think ultimately in the end it’ll be worth it.”

Library communications director Don Dwiggins said the Central library renovations are the third element of a bond referendum passed by the commissioners in 2010 that also included money for adding branches in Kernersville and Clemmons. Prior to that, he said, they had been trying to get a new library for at least 15 years.

“It not only passed, but passed by a margin of 14 points,” he said.

Dwiggins noted that it is far less common today for people to attend author lectures and hopes the new-look facility will foster more face-to-face dialogue.

“We want to be in that intersection, that nexus in a community where people will come not only to enjoy cultural activities, but to talk about topics and issues regarding their communities as well, as they used to do 50 years ago,” he said. “When you had a community debate you came to the library to do it.”

Dwiggins said that libraries are in transition””something the public has not realized.

“Our image is still kind of stuck in the 1950s, and while nobody’s been looking we have joined the 21 st century in terms of what we offer, technology, e-books, all that stuff,” he said. “We want a library that will reflect current day needs, and part of that is we want it to be a community gathering place as much as it is a library built around it.”

Dwiggins said they decided on an architect in March and since then design plans have been rolling along smoothly.

“They have come in and done a very impressive job,” he said. “Instead of coming in and saying, Ok here’s what we’re going to do. They took the time to interview staff, to find out not only what we did but how we did it. How we moved everyday. The interaction with the public. And they really took that to heart and put that in their thinking for a new design.”

To receive input from the community, the library has set up a survey on newforsythcountylibrary.mindmixer. com where citizens can share their ideas on what the library ought to be. Sunday hours will also be added at the Malloy/Jordan East Winston Heritage Center, Southside Branch Library and Reynolda Manor Branch locations. They will be open from 1pm to 5pm on Sundays beginning November 2.

Dwiggins said in addition to the resources moving to the government center, books will be shared at the other library branches. The rest of the collections will go into storage while the library is closed. He said there will inevitably be some disruption and stress placed on the other libraries, but on the positive side there will be more staff available at the other branches.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that noticeable overall, and we’re going to try to mitigate it to where it’s not as bad as people think it might be,” he said.

Forsyth County Library is a member of the NC Cardinal library consortium, which houses between 4 million and 5 million volumes from 18 libraries across the state. It offers interlibrary loans for residents who request a book not in their system, and Dwiggins said this will help offset the loss of some books only available at Central Library.

“Those books are going to go to a location that will be accessible by us within a day, so if you came in, wanted a book or information that we didn’t have at the government center but we had at our offsite location, we could get it for you within a day,” he said. !