Local residents showed their support for Charleston County Public Library Tuesday as voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to build five new libraries, renovate 13 others and complete major technology and building upgrades throughout the county.
By nearly a three-to-one margin, 69,530 voters, or 74 percent, supported the library's building and renovation plan - a similar margin to the library building referendum in 1986. The results were reported by Charleston County election official around 10 p.m. Tuesday night.
"This is truly the beginning of a new era in Charleston County," said Library Board Chairman Janet Segal. "We spent nearly four years developing this plan and working hand-in-hand with residents to make sure it reflected what local residents want. In meetings, and even in independent surveys, county residents told us they love their libraries, and said they wanted more and better library services. Today, they showed that love in the voting booth."
The $108.5 million plan includes construction or renovation of 19 buildings throughout the county. Five new libraries would be constructed – two in areas of rapid growth (the East Cooper/Carolina Park and West Ashley/Bees Ferry Road areas) and three to replace outdated facilities that aren’t able to meet customer needs (the Cooper River Memorial Branch in North Charleston plus the James Island and St. Paul’s/Hollywood branches). A total of 13 existing libraries would be renovated, the library’s support staff would be relocated from the Main Library to free up space for public use, and the library’s technology would be upgraded to include self-checkout kiosks, more public computers and the latest equipment in meeting rooms.
The construction will cost $11.20 annually for households with a $100,000 owner-occupied home. Operating costs will be phased in and will be approximately $6.80 annually in 2019-2020.
"This will mean better library services for all county residents, from infants to retirees. It's going to be an exciting time," said Executive Director Doug Henderson. "This truly is an important day for this generation and for the generations to come.”
The next step will be meeting with Charleston County officials to develop a timeline and work together to hire architects to help with building design. The overall plan is expected to take approximately six years to complete. Henderson said meetings will be scheduled with residents to get input about the specific services they see as priorities for their neighborhood libraries.
Henderson said there are a lot of people to thank for the hard work that went into developing the plan and educating the residents about the final proposal.
“First, we have to thank all the residents and library users who continually offered their support, " Henderson said. "We also must thank the members of Charleston County Council and county staff, the library’s Board of Trustees, the donors and volunteers who offered their service and time to the Vote Yes for Charleston Libraries Committee, members of the Charleston Friends of the Library and to the library’s staff members. Every day, they share their passion for libraries and this community.”
The plan was developed after a detailed assessment of the library’s existing facilities, a review of population growth patterns since the 1986 referendum, a study of changing technologies, a look at library service trends plus multiple meetings, surveys, focus groups and interviews to determine community needs. An independent consultant helped the library develop a Strategic Plan and identify shortcomings that needed attention.
Since the 1986 referendum, the county's population grew 27 percent while the library's circulation soared 289 percent in the same period. Last year’s circulation was 3.3 million items and nearly 210,000 people attended programs, classes, exhibits, concerts and similar programs at one of CCPL’s 16 branches.