City moves ahead on library

Published 10:16 pm Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A city consultant's conception of downtown Suffolk with a new library and private improvements the city believes will follow its investment.

A city consultant’s conception of downtown Suffolk with a new library and private improvements the city believes will follow its investment.

The city will purchase 10 parcels along West Washington, South and Lee streets to pursue its plan for a new downtown library and satellite community college campus, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts told City Council members Wednesday.

The parcels, which are owned by three separate owners, include nine rental houses, four commercial buildings and two vacant lots. Some parcels have more than one building. Two of the owners are investment companies owned by Ralph Nahra and Andy Damiani, Roberts said.

The city is moving ahead on the project regardless of legislators’ concerns expressed during the legislative dinner earlier this month that the state may not have the money to cooperate on the project, even if it has the desire to do so.


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City leaders envision a library that would have classrooms and other resources for Paul D. Camp Community College, as well as amenities such as a café, local history museum and genealogy center. The project is estimated to cost $22 million. It would replace the current Morgan Memorial Library a couple of blocks to the west of the proposed site.

But legislators, especially Delegate Chris Jones (R-76), said at the Nov. 7 legislative dinner that other priorities in the community college system may come first.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson said on Wednesday the city should make itself heard with state officials to move its project to the top of the state’s list. The city will include a request for policy support from the state in its legislative package.

“There’s a lot of competition in the community colleges, and we know that,” she said. “We’ll just keep going until we get what we really want.”

Vice Mayor Charles Brown and Councilman Roger Fawcett said they want to expand the new facility’s offerings to other higher education institutions, such as four-year colleges and trade schools. Fawcett noted upcoming tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels will add a burden for students from Suffolk trying to commute to Old Dominion University or Norfolk State University.

Councilman Mike Duman said the college’s cooperation is “the most important element” because it will bring people downtown and inject new life into the old district.

Other council members said they are just excited to get a new library, although the other resources are a bonus.

“We need a new library, period,” Councilman Jeffrey Gardy said. “The library we’ve got now is really antiquated.”

On Dec. 4, the council will hold a public hearing to get comments on financing about $2.1 million for acquisition, demolition, environmental studies and other preliminary costs. On Dec. 18, the council will consider a resolution appropriating the proceeds of that financing.

Roberts said the city hopes to have all the property in hand by June 2014.