Library board considers moving to downtown

By Lynn R. Parks.

The board of directors of the Seaford District Library is considering the purchase of property in downtown Seaford for the construction of a new facility. The property, identified by a board-nominated site selection committee as the best of four options, is being appraised by a consultant hired by the library. "We are still very much in the initial phases of the project," said Rose Adams, board secretary. "We are looking at all possibilities." The board refused to identify the property. Thurman Adams, chairman of the site selection committee, said that the property has two buildings on it which would have to be demolished. According to Doug Hunter, board treasurer, estimated cost of construction, including purchase of property, is $3 million to $5 million. The library received a state grant last year for $25,000, part of which it is using to pay the consultant, Frank Hemphill. It also received $388,000 in this year's bond bill, which must be matched by grants and private donations. The bond bill money is earmarked for "building purposes," Hunter said. The board has until Aug. 24 to apply for funding through next year's bond bill. It is in the process of forming a fund-raising committee. Hunter said that the current library building, the main part of which was constructed in 1962, is "falling apart." The building on Porter Street needs a new roof, he said, and its electrical system needs updated to allow for more computers. "We can't put in any more computers, one because we don't have places to put them and two because our electrical system won't handle them." In addition, a state statistician who examined the facility said that in order to adequately serve the population of the Seaford School District, the library should be at least 15,000 square feet. The current building is 9,600 square feet. According to Dee McDonnell, library director, the school district has a population of 16,935. The library has 9,179 regular patrons and last year checked out 99,000 books. "We are looking at expanding our books," said Hunter. "We are looking at art exhibits and at having more programs focusing on diversity and multi-culturalism. We want the community to have access to computers and reference materials to bridge the information gap. We want to be a center of community activities, be a cultural center, but we are constrained by size." Expansion at the current site is not practical, he added, because of the condition of the current building's infrastructure and the size of the lot. Members of the board are excited at the prospect of being downtown. "That is the center of Seaford," said Thurman Adams. "The Manor House is there, the hospital, LifeCare at Lofland Park. The mentoring capacity alone from people in those facilities who could help children is worth it."

But not everyone likes the idea of being downtown, near the Nanticoke River. Woody and Mollie Woodruff, Seaford, long-time volunteers at the library, attended the most recent board meeting to protest consideration of the downtown property. "I believe this decision is ill-advised," Woody Woodruff told board members. "You have all the hazards of the waterfront to consider. There will be flooding, which will make your insurance higher. And if you think children misbehave now at the library, God knows what they will do down there, at the river." Hunter said that the building can be constructed above the flood plain, to lessen the chances that it will be damaged by flood waters. Rose Adams said that safety was a major component of the site selection process. Another property was rated less desirable than the downtown property because it has a stream running through it, which Hemphill said would be more attractive to children than the river. Woodruff said that public input has not been sought throughout the procedure. "Everyone I have met, I tell them that the library is considering building a new building and they say, ‘What? Are you kidding?' This was so quietly done, if you ask people in the community, they don't know anything about it. I don't know how you can go forward without getting the feelings of the public." Edith Villasenor, board president, responded that board meetings are all open to the public. According to minutes of the meetings, first mention of a new building was made at the March 2000 board meeting. A town meeting, attended by about 75, was held June 4. "No objections were voiced then," Rose Adams said. The Woodruffs were unable to attend that meeting as they were out of town, they said. Meetings of the site selection committee, members of whom were selected by Villasenor, were private. According to Hunter, the state Sunshine Law permits discussions of property purchases by public boards to be done in private. "You mean we will never get to know how the site selection committee decided on this property?" Woody Woodruff asked. "That is right," Hunter replied. The Porter Street building is owned by the library's board of directors, members of whom are appointed by the Sussex County Superior Court judge. If a new building is constructed, the current building will be sold, Hunter said. It's value has not been determined. The library is in an area that is zoned for single family homes. According to city manager Dolores Slatcher, any establishment on the property that is not a single-family home would have to go through the city's board of adjustments for a zoning variance.

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