Orange County

New Orange County library building called ‘dream project’

The proposed library in Carrboro would be a branch of the Orange County Library, shown here on Margaret Lane in downtown Hillsborough.
The proposed library in Carrboro would be a branch of the Orange County Library, shown here on Margaret Lane in downtown Hillsborough. News and Observer file photo

“Synergy” was the word Carrboro residents and leaders used again and again at a recent public hearing on developing the town parking lot at 203 S. Greensboro St.

The plan would replace 88 parking spaces with a building that could house a new branch of the Orange County Library, the Carrboro Recreation and Parks offices, and the ArtsCenter.

“I want to thank the Board of Aldermen and the county for really developing a dream project,” said Nerys Levy, a long-time library advocate.

ArtsCenter executive director Daniel Mayer told the board the 43-year-old arts education nonprofit desperately needs new quarters.

“We're in a former Piggly-Wiggly that was built in the 1960s and renovated about 28 years ago,” said Mayer. “The building is crumbling. The HVAC systems have a limited life, the roof is leaking, we need to do something.”

Mayer said the next step for the ArtsCenter will be to hire a consultant to determine how much the organization can afford to spend on a partnership with the town and county, and how best to raise that money.

During the summer the Town of Carrboro will negotiate with Orange County about how to develop the site and how to split costs. A 55,000-square-foot building could cost $13.75 million, consulting architect Jim Spencer estimated. A plan to add an adjoining parking deck would cost another $4.2 million.

Spencer said the project, as planned, would need a minimum of 170 parking spaces.

Though the site could support a deck with 280 to 300 spaces, some speakers pushed back against the idea of adding multiple stories of structured parking.

Carrboro resident and transportation planner Patrick McDonough said the current concept offers more parking than necessary.

“Please don't focus on getting the parking right, focus on getting the access right,” said McDonough. “Access is how you get to the site and parking is one of the strategies, along with how we get people there by buses and how we get them there by bike and such.”

‘Make or break’

Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said she wants to make sure there is parking immediately available nearby to replace the spaces in the current lot. While she encouraged the board to consider options other than a parking deck, she said there needs to be enough parking to support local businesses.

“We have to handle this really carefully because parking could make or break this,” said Gist.

Mayor Lydia Lavelle said if the planning for the Southern Branch Library goes as scheduled, the project could break ground in the fall of 2018, with construction lasting 18 months. She noted that it will be only the second brand new building the town has built in more than 100 years, following the construction of Fire Station 2 in 2010.

Tuesday’s public hearing was the last board meeting of this fiscal year. The Board of Aldermen will resume meetings in early September.

Elizabeth Friend:

MLK Jr. Park plan advances

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen this week also approved a plan for the Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1120 Hillsborough Road. The unanimous vote came after more than a decade of design and deliberation.

“There were children born when we bought this land who have finished grad school now and are are moving back with their kids,” said Alderowman Jacquie Gist.

The town first purchased the land in 1999, then drafted a master plan for the park in 2004 and updated it in 2014.

The final plan includes two pump tracks, which are bike loops of banked turns and smooth dirt mounds designed to be ridden without any pedaling. Riders move by “pumping” their bodies to gain momentum. Navigating the tracks help riders learn bike handling skills at low speed and with few obstacles. The two tracks will accommodate beginning and intermediate riders.

In addition to bike loops, the park will offer a natural play area, a shelter, a small amphitheater, a community garden, and protected wetlands.

The town manager will award a construction contract in the coming months totaling $1.2 million. The total cost of the park, including land acquisition and design, is $2.1 million.