Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer
During the April meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, a split-vote passed to purchase a parcel of property in the Nantahala Community. While some commissioners, like newcomer Josh Young, want to see the Nantahala Library relocated to the new parcel, the official future use of the property is still undecided.
After a closed session discussion, Macon County Commissioner Paul Higdon made a motion to purchase a 1.29 acre parcel of property with a single building on the property in Nantahala located at 36 White Oak Lane. The purchase price for the property was $159,800.
“The current library is dilapidated,” said Higdon who made the motion to purchase the property. “It is a double-wide trailer and its functionality is weak.”
Macon County currently has three libraries, all of which are part of the larger Fontana Regional Library System. In total, Fontana Regional Library operates six libraries, three in Macon County, two in Jackson County in Sylva and Cashiers, and one in Bryson City.
Like Young, Higdon voted to move forward with the purchase of the property in hopes to develop it for a new library and community center for the Nantahala Community.
During his motion to purchase the property, Higdon acknowledged that the current staff and leaders of the Nantahala Library do not want to relocate, however Higdon supported the purchase of the property due to promises he made to Nantahala residents.
“I know there is some opposition tonight that the library doesn’t want to move,” said Higdon. “Well, I have promised a lot of people in Nantahala that I would push to have the county fund this property for a library/community center for the folks in Nantahala. There is talk that if we buy this property they aren’t going to use it as a library and that is beyond me, I can’t force the library to move up there.”
While Macon County owns the building in which the Franklin area library is located, the management and operations of the library is handled by the Fontana Regional Library System.
Macon County provides Fontana Regional Library with about $1 million a year in operation costs for all three libraries in the county. In addition to the operating budget, Macon County pays the utility bills on the facilities, as well as the maintenance on the buildings. In the past, as the Nantahala Library has needed repairs, funds have been provided for such out of the county’s maintenance budget, in addition to the operation dollars provided to Fontana Regional Library.
The Macon County Board of Commissioners have grappled with issues surrounding the Nantahala Library dating back to 2018. The library, a double-wide trailer houses on the property of Nantahala School, has been operating since 1999. In September 2018, Nantahala resident Ed Trask spoke to commissioners about a survey conducted seeking input from Nantahala residents on the future of the Nantahala library location.
When asked where community residents would like to have a new library, the White Oak Flats area received the most responses. However, almost as many residents requested that the library stay at the existing location, citing centralization, easy accessibility, convenience, and safety.
Fontana Regional Library Director Karen Wallace has advocated for the library to remain at Nantahala School, saying having the library at the school makes the most sense as students frequent the library regularly.
Chairman of the Library Board Bill Dyar spoke ahead of the vote to purchase the property and said that the library has discussed the proposed property and made it clear that they also believe that the library should stay located at the Nantahala School. Dyar spoke to commissioners about a recent meeting with members of the school board and library board to tour both the proposed new property and property located on Nantahala School at which point leaders affirmed their desire to not relocate the building.
“Both community members and library board members were in full agreement that converting the industrial arts building [located at Nantahala School] into the new community center and library, from our perspective, is the preferred alternative.”
Commission Vice-Chair Ronnie Beale noted that moving forward with purchasing the property, knowing the library’s intention to not relocate, no longer made sense.
“I have to speak in opposition of purchasing the property because we can’t find a purpose for the building,” said Beale. “We have heard from the library board tonight and community leaders, that they cannot put the library four miles from the school.”
Beale noted that while the county dug a well on the property during the due diligence period of considering the property for purchase, the property currently has no internet connection, which the library says is crucial.
“We are talking about an estimated $300,000 just to get fiber there and a total output of close to $700,000 for this building,” said Beale. “And what are we going to do with it? Once the county buys it we have to fix it up and then keep it up. The heating system isn’t adequate, it only heats half the building, and there is just a whole list of things. We can’t find a purpose for the building if it isn’t going to be a library and then we still have to do something about the library.”
Commissioner Gary Shields also voted in opposition of purchasing the property clarifying that if purchased, it would only be considered for a community building and not a library.
“We keep hearing this about being used for a possible library, but I just want to be clear, that we have already heard from the library that this property can’t and won’t be used for the library,” said Shields. “So when we are talking about this property, we are talking about it as just a possible community center.”
Commissioner Jim Tate, who cast the tie-breaking vote in support of purchasing of the property said that the deciding factor for him to purchase the property was an email from Macon County Board of Education member Melissa Evans, who represents the Nantahala District saying that she wanted to see the library moved.
“What pushed me over the edge on how I wanted to support the purchase of the [Bateman] property was an email from our school board representative…didn’t want the community building or the library located at the school. With that, I decided to vote in favor of purchasing the property.”
Commissioners voted 3-2 to purchase the property at 36 White Oak Lane in Nantahala out of the county’s fund balance. The future use of the property is yet to be decided.