Take a look at the new Orange County library project coming to Carrboro

Tammy Grubb
·4 min read

Orange County commissioners found another $1.8 million for a Carrboro library Tuesday after learning that parking would be more expensive than anticipated.

The commissioners “owe it to the community” to move forward with the Southern Branch Library, which the county and Carrboro have been planning for three decades, commissioners Chair Renee Price said.

“For me, the library is an essential community resource, and it’s a place where children, teens and adults can go to enhance their own lives,” she said. “I think about the civil rights movement and all of that; libraries were very important. We’re still working toward equity.”

Construction of the $30.8 million project at 203 S. Greensboro St. could start later this year. The site is now an 88-space, town-owned parking lot across the street from Open Eye Cafe. Town and county officials are working with downtown businesses to replace the parking during construction.

The new 50,600-square-foot, 44-foot-tall building will include a 65-foot-tall parking deck with 173 spaces, including 113 for the county, 57 for the town and three for community radio station WCOM.

The library for southern Orange County residents will replace the much smaller Carrboro Branch Library at McDougle schools and the Cybrary in the Carrboro Century Center.

The latest design is smaller than previous versions but includes a roughly 1,300 square foot terrace, a green roof, rooftop solar and over 8,900 square feet of open space. It also will house a virtual justice center and teen center, town office and meeting space, a small theater, and the county’s Skills Development Center, now located at 503 W. Franklin St.

Carrboro’s Town Council approved a schematic design in November, and town and county staff have continued to refine the costs. Carrboro is providing the land and paying just shy of $14 million for construction, fees, furnishings and equipment; the county is paying $16.8 million and occupy 56% of the building.

Project’s cost has gone up

On Tuesday, the commissioners learned that the project’s cost had increased by $2.4 million, largely because it will require a more expensive parking deck, Deputy County Manager Travis Myren said. The pre-cast deck that was planned would have cost $25,000 per space, but that didn’t work with the site’s limited size, he said. A cast-in-place deck will cost $36,170 per space.

Staff has been able to narrow the overrun to $1.8 million, he said, although he also confirmed that the cost will remain flexible until a “guaranteed maximum price” is set in September. That’s also the deadline for Carrboro to get the project financing approved by the Local Government Commission, he said. The next chance would be in January.

The county already has passed one deadline with Carrboro, County Manager Bonnie Hammersley said. The development agreement gives the commissioners 45 days to make a decision about moving forward once the council approves a schematic design, she said.

Commissioner Mark Dorosin initially suggested using some of the $568,000 that the county gives to the Chapel Hill Public Library each year to help pay for the additional debt, in addition to money slated for easement conservation and a Justice Center generator. The building can be partially furnished with old furniture from the skills center and existing libraries to save additional money, he said.

The county is bound to the timing in the agreement and “made a longtime commitment to this project,” Dorosin said.

“It’s had some real fits and starts, and I think it has to be one of our top priorities, including because I think it does have an important racial equity piece that runs through both the skills development center and the library piece,” he said.

That’s a lot of money for parking, Commissioner Amy Fowler said.

“This is a nice project,” she said. “It’s something we would like to do, but school construction is an obligation of the county, and the more that we put into things like this and put into debt financing, that pushes us further back on things that are an obligation.”

She agreed on shifting the easement, generator and furnishings money, but also suggested reducing the amount of window glazing that blocks outside noise and reducing the contingency budget by roughly $58,000. Commissioner Earl McKee recommended finding the rest of the money by losing 20 parking spaces.

The commissioners supported that suggestion.

Plans for the Southern Branch Library include a central courtyard on the southern side of the building along Carr Street. The courtyard will offer additional space for people to meet, read and learn, project officials said.
Plans for the Southern Branch Library include a central courtyard on the southern side of the building along Carr Street. The courtyard will offer additional space for people to meet, read and learn, project officials said.

Library planned for decades

The county has been planning a future Southern Branch Library for over 30 years, settling on the current site after rejecting one closer to Town Hall on Hillsborough Road.

Carrboro’s Economic Development Director Jon Hartman-Brown told the council in November that the library could serve a minimum of 30,000 to 40,000 people each year. Another 2,800 people could visit the government offices and roughly 8,300 people could visit the recreation and cultural facilities, he said.

More people downtown also could mean $72,000 to $101,500 in estimated new spending for downtown businesses, he said.