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January 8, 2018 · OPINION

Vision for new library suddenly has evaporated

Conceptual drawing for a 30,000-square-foot public library on county-owned property along Waterloo Street in Warrenton.
By Douglas Larson
Warrenton

I recently agreed to serve as chair of the Fauquier County Friends of The Library Capital Campaign Committee. We were tasked with the challenge of raising $5 million from the community to be added to what we thought would be an allocation of $10 million coming from the capital improvement plan of the county.

The total project — $15 million in all — would provide for the construction of a beautiful new library on a county-owned site along Waterloo Street in Old Town Warrenton.

A little background: The current main library is 16,000 square feet on two floors of a building originally built as a storage facility at Alexandria Pike and Winchester Street. The building was a gift from philanthropist Ed Stevenson and has served the community for the past 35 years. Each day, approximately 350 library patrons of all ages make use of the various services and programs the library offers. The location has great visibility in the community but includes only 13 parking spaces. Current capacity is fully utilized, with no room for any expansion.

Planning for a new library that would better meet the needs of the growing Fauquier community has been ongoing for many years. Based on communities of similar size, it is estimated that the library needs to be 30,000 square feet to allow for continued expansion of the collection, enhanced technical services, public meeting rooms and additional space for various programs and, of course, greatly expanded parking.

The current estimated price tag for such a facility is $15 million. The library expansion has been requested in the Fauquier capital plan over the years, but competing priorities have won out and the library remained on the “wish list.”

Earlier in 2017, the Friends of The Fauquier Library proposed to the board of supervisors that the organization would undertake a fundraising effort with a $5 million goal if the supervisors would commit to $10 million for the project in the 2018 capital improvement plan. That request was approved by the supervisors on a 3 to 2 vote, and the group was instructed to begin fundraising for the new library.

The Friends of the Library engaged an architect and worked with various stakeholders in the community to develop a conceptual plan for a new 30,000-square-foot building. The proposed building includes expanded space for the collection, greatly expanded technological services, public meeting facilities, a teen section and 87 parking spaces. With the plan in hand, a Capital Campaign Committee was recruited, and fundraising began in earnest.

Early responses to the fundraising efforts were positive. The PATH Foundation and Town of Warrenton each pledged $1 million, and the committee quickly had pledges for an additional $500,000. Momentum was building, and the initial community response looked very promising.

It is disappointing to say that the story at this point has taken an unexpected turn. In the last week of 2017, the county library board was informed that there was no longer support from the majority of supervisors for the $10 million in public funds originally earmarked for the project. This action has forced the suspension of the fundraising effort.

While alternatives are still under consideration, it now seems unlikely that the project as envisioned can go forward at this time. A $10 million project would yield a new library the size of the existing overcrowded facility. A private fundraising campaign of $10 million (to be added to a possible $5 million county contribution) would be an ambitious undertaking that could require several years to complete.

I can appreciate the difficult decisions that the supervisors face and respect their inclination for fiscal restraint. However, we do expect our leaders to look beyond one-year funding cycles and think about a positive vision for the community for generations to come. Surely a library that will serve Fauquier for the next 50 to 100 years deserves immediate consideration. If no public investments in those institutions that define our community are ever made, what will we pass along to the next generation?

If you believe as I do that the vitality of the community is measured by our public institutions, I suggest you make your opinion known to your supervisors. Perhaps we will have better luck the next time around.

In the meantime, I urge the board of supervisors to reserve the Waterloo Street site — one of the last possible locations in Old Town Warrenton that could accommodate a large-scale project — for the construction of a library that adequately serves the community.

The writer is retired after working as the managing director of Airlie and then as the vice president for development of the Piedmont Environmental Council.
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Vickie · March 6, 2018 at 3:27 am
Peggy Gardner must also be polite. BJ is reacting to her posts, but we all need to be respectful while getting our points across.
Vickie · March 6, 2018 at 3:21 am
I hope everyone wanting an expanded, new library attends the Public Library Hearing Mar 15 at the high school. It's high time we push forward, and get something funded that the Community wants. It is, after all, our money that will fund it, along with grants and fund raising. Taxes first, and foremost, are lent out for a return on investment. We need that library now. It is so much more than just books, but they are crucial. It's the connectivity, the community, the ability to use resources as a part of a vibrant group. Without a replacement library, downtown might as well fold up the sidewalks. The library is the center, the hub the soul of the town. P.S. BJ - note the request to be polite in the header.
BJ · January 29, 2018 at 2:36 pm
Peggy Gardner - well aren't you special too!
Jim Griffin · January 19, 2018 at 9:08 am
I adore libraries, support librarians and their mission, and so I will note that in the past decade the meetings I've attended of librarians were replete with librarians displaying the shrinking stacks, empty bookshelves and enhanced digital access to materials. The library is becoming a network and community center.

Let's connect every county/local building, school to a library/hub at the center, and let the network expand to homes/businesses from that center with wireless nodes aplenty. It's the foundation of a digital, healthy community.

Which puts me in agreement with others here. I love physical books (though I am not happy with their weight and physical encumbrence), but suggest a balance and the need to make our new library a networking center (with lots of books, places to sit, access to computers and so forth).

Interesting possible addition: Print-on-demand that can replicate any book (with appropriate permission) in minutes.
Scout · January 15, 2018 at 10:36 am
Libraries are and will always be a community gathering place. A library is THE cornerstone of an educated and involved community. While many consider a library a place for books so much more takes place in a library. While digital materials are often available online they are not always free nor can they answer your questions, help you find what you are looking for, provide you direction in research or read your child a story as they sit in groups with other children. Libraries provide an environment for human interaction, something that is disappearing with busy lives and electronic applications. It is important to maintain that community, that access, that contact that is offered in the library setting of a community. Libraries promote learning and education, qualities every community should stand behind. A new library is an investment in the future.
BJ · January 8, 2018 at 9:34 pm
Sigh, once again the Library, one of the most important assets to a community next to schools, post offices, churches for many, and grocery stores, gets pushed to the back burner. Not everyone wants to read digital material Ms. Gardner, and viable businesses where people have to spend money will never replace a "good read" IMO. A great book will stay with you for a lifetime, a meal or other material purchase will not.
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