Best location for new James Island Library in dispute

The Charleston County Library System Trustees prefer a location on Dills Bluff Road for the new James Island Library. A majority of County Council supports putting the new library on South Grimball Road next to James Island Elementary.

Charleston County Council and the Library Board of Trustees disagree on where the new James Island Library should be located.

A majority of council has favored a 5-acre parcel on South Grimball Road next to James Island Elementary School. The trustees ranking of possible library sites lists Dills Bluff Road land owned by the James Island Public Service District as the best spot.

The issue is scheduled to go back to council on June 16.

A library on Grimball Road built on land donated by the county school district would cost $11 million. Putting the library on Dills Bluff is an estimated $10.8 million project, excluding land costs that have yet to be determined. The 6-acre PSD property was last appraised at $555,000, officials said.

Trustees ranked the South Grimball Road location as the least desirable alternative for the new branch library. In a 5-2 vote, the council Finance Committee favored South Grimball Road for the 20,000-square-foot library. The committee includes all council members.

The Dills Bluff site is close to the current library on Camp Road. South Grimball is a more remote location off Folly Road about three miles from the beach.

Library Trustees Chairman Janet Segal told the committee before its vote that the trustees’ recommendation was based on an evaluation of the options that was fair, unemotional and data-driven.

“Our goal was to choose the best possible site for the most number of people in each area,” she said.

After Dills Bluff, the trustees’ second location of choice for a new library is a Bi-Lo shopping center site near Folly and Camp roads. Empty space there would cost $9.3 million, with most of the cost for the building and improvements.

The Dills Bluff location just barely squeaked past the Bi-Lo site in the trustee rankings. Based on factors used in the evaluation, the former received a score of 21 compared with 20.67 for the latter.

The Dills Bluff and Bi-Lo sites ranked higher because trustees consider them centrally located on the island. Each site would serve about 25,000 people living within a 2-mile radius. The Grimball site has about 9,000 fewer people living in a 2-mile radius.

Availability of public transportation, whether the parcel is big enough for current and future needs, visibility and environmental impact were other factors. Cost was only considered in the event of a tie in the numeric ranking, Segal said.

Councilman Teddie Pryor said Thursday that the 5-acre Grimball Road site next to James Island Elementary is the best location because the land is free and it offers plenty of green space.

“To me it’s more centrally located,” he said.

Pryor said the shopping center site is flawed.

“The Bi-Lo site is nothing but asphalt. Libraries aren’t meant to be built on asphalt,” he said.

And there are concerns about what it would cost to renovate the building, he said.

Councilman Joe Qualey and PSD Chairman Donald Hollingsworth said Thursday that they have been talking about the possibility of the county buying the PSD’s 6 acres on Dill’s Bluff as the site of the new island library.

“This is a perfect opportunity. They got that property for free. That location is optimal,” Qualey said.

The PSD thinks that the $555,000 valuation for its property may be too low because of the price of nearby land, said Hollingsworth, who expressed a willingness to sell the property. “If we can come to an amicable agreement on it, yes,” he said.

When the Finance Committee made its May vote in favor of the Grimball Road site, Qualey and Councilman Herb Sass voted no. Council members Dickie Schweers and Colleen Condon abstained because they said they wanted more information before voting.

The James Island library is currently located on Camp Road near Dill’s Bluff Road.

In a November referendum, voters approved $100 million for library system capital improvements. Segal told the Finance Committee that the current plan includes building two new libraries, replacing three of them and renovating other branches.