By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
After trials and tribulations that staffers joke included everything but a murder, and amid a funding disaster that continues to threaten its existence past the end of this fiscal year, the Dade County Library held ribbon-cutting festivities on Tuesday for its newly renovated and expanded building on the Trenton town square.
The building had been closed since October 2010, when the staff and collection moved into temporary quarters in the Ingle’s shopping center pending completion of the renovation.
That location lost part of its roof in the killer tornados of April 27, 2011, which destroyed the library’s computers and furniture as well as drenching books and genealogy documents. The book collection and other materials were removed by the library’s insurer, and library workers are only now learning how well or ill much of it fared as they continue unpacking boxes.
The library then became roomies with the Dade County Chamber of Commerce at the old Dade County depot building, which incidentally had housed it before the present building was erected in the 1970s. Things were cramped, and library staff shortly moved – along with donated computers and borrowed books – into a third temporary location in a rented storefront across from Gross Furniture on Highway 11 North.
That, at 1,000 square feet, was pretty cramped, too. But not to worry: Insanity-level hikes to employer-paid health insurance for library workers mandated by the state cleared the place out on July 1 of this year as Debra Bradford, a 20-year veteran of the library and by then one-third of its staff, was given her walking papers.
At about the same time as the tornados, the state had eliminated its master’s-level librarian position, sending then library manager Gayla Brewer down the road. Marshana Sharp was then promoted to manager, and now constitutes one-half of the workforce.
Also at about the same time, the library had been forced by performance problems to fire the contractor it had initially hired for the renovation. Contractor No. 1 was already well behind schedule, and ensuing negotiations with the bonding company for the project kicked things back yet further. Original move-in date was slated for May 2011.
Meanwhile, in winter of 2010, the city of Trenton announced it had cut 100 percent of its funding for the library – which historically has been supported locally by the city, Dade County and the local board of education, none of which is bound by any legal instrument to continue the funding – from its 2011 budget.
The city relented in the face of public protest, if only provisionally and only in increments. But this summer, when the Dade County Board of Education announced abruptly that it had also decided to dump the library, three packed public hearings failed to influence board members to spare the institution, and one suggested the library turn to charity for its bread.
Accordingly, the library set out to fundraise $18,000, about half of what it had traditionally received from the board of education, and the figure that Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library, of which Dade’s is a branch, projected would suffice to keep the library open for the reduced 30-hour schedule it had adopted on July 1 after the health insurance disaster.
The fund drive was wildly successful, surpassing goal at $21,277 so far.
Meanwhile, library supporters got a straw poll question on both the Democrat and Republic July 31 primary ballots asking whether some fraction of a point of Dade’s millage rate should be devoted to the library’s upkeep, assuring it a secure funding source. Dade voters answered a resounding 71 percent chorus of yes.
Since then Dade County Executive and Commission Chairman Ted Rumley has said voters didn’t understand that any percentage devoted to the library would be a percentage of a new millage rate point, and would not have voted yes had they grasped this.
Rumley’s assertion has riled many library supporters, who point out they are literate enough to have understood the question. “I felt that the question was quite clearly worded, much clearer than other questions on prior ballots,” reads a posting by one on the Save the Dade County Library Facebook page. “I hate to see that a 71% positive vote for the library is being questioned. I voted yes for the library, and I will continue to vote yes for the library.”
The new contractor, Chazler Inc., has now finished the renovation job, and the book collection been returned by the insurer. Thus Dade County Library on Tuesday, with the help of many volunteers, and thanks to the generosity of Dade’s business community as well as to scores and scores of individual donors, opened its doors Tuesday on 12,000 square feet of shining new meeting rooms, study rooms and computer spaces – with a staff of two, and no promise of funding past June 2013.
Congratulations are clearly in order, though perhaps with breath held pending the rest of the story. Didn’t somebody say something about a murder?