Library adviser speaks out

Published 10:13 pm Thursday, January 22, 2015

A member of a City Council-appointed board advising on library matters believes pushing back funding for a new downtown library might be a mistake.

Sean Bilby, one of eight Library Advisory Board members, spoke out during Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting, where the city’s draft plan for capital improvements through 2025 was considered.

After talks with school division officials, recent revisions to the plan aimed at fast-tracking two new public schools in North Suffolk would include pushing out the first construction funding for a new downtown library two years to fiscal 2018.

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While the change in direction is aimed at meeting public education needs, the new library would also be an important educational resource — and much more as well — said Bilby, a library professional in Norfolk’s system.

“It’s a university on the corner,” he said. “Anybody can use it. It’s a community center, it’s a gathering place, it’s a forum for exchange (and) it’s an incubator for new ideas and innovation.”

School children are also heavy city library users, according to Bilby, citing home-schoolers, kindergartners starting to learn to read and students stopping by to complete their homework.

The new library — a project that also includes a satellite community college campus — is estimated to cost $22 million, part of which would be funded by the community college system. Together with the nearby new municipal building on West Washington Street, city leaders hope it will spur private redevelopment around it.

The aging current library limits the potential for delivering services to the community, Bilby said.

“I urge you to keep the downtown library being rebuilt in there,” Bilby told commissioners. “Keep it in 2016, rather than pushing it along.”

After commissioners voted to send the capital improvements plan along unchanged, City Council is set to consider it in February.

Speaking after the meeting, Bilby said library board members have discussed the issue as a board, but “we decided it would be better if someone spoke not on behalf of the board, but to express our personal concerns.”