James Island district open to reducing price for library site

The existing James Island Library (seen here) is scheduled for replacement.

A Charleston County Councilman hopes to delay Tuesday’s vote on the site for a new James Island public library in hopes of striking a better deal.

Councilman Joe Qualey said he heard Monday morning from James Island Public Service District Chairman Donald Hollingsworth, who said the district is willing to reconsider the sales price for its property on Dills Bluff Road.

Many people, including the library system’s Board of Trustees, consider that the best possible site, but it’s unclear if the offer to renegotiate has arrived in time.

County Council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to pick a site — and its Finance Committee voted 5-2 to recommend property that once housed the Baxter Patrick Elementary School. The School District is willing to donate that site, which is across from the James Island Elementary School on South Grimball Road.

Qualey, whose district includes most of the island, said a vast majority of them indicated they don’t want the Grimball Road site. In a survey of 302 residents of James Island and Folly Beach, only 20, or 6 percent, backed it.

Almost 76 percent favored a site in the Bi-Lo shopping center near Folly and Camp roads, while 20 percent favored the Public Service District’s property on Dills Bluff Road.

That site was the No. 1 choice of the library’s Board of Trustees for the new 20,000-square-foot building, but it has been a long shot because the county and the district were far apart on price. A county appraisal indicated the 6-acre site is worth $555,000, but the district feels that number is too low.

Qualey said the district’s willingness to reconsider hopefully will convince council members to delay a decision — at least until the district’s commission meets at 7 p.m. July 22.

“I think that the Library Board is certainly pleased with that development,” Qualey said.

It’s unclear if council members will be willing to delay the vote. Council Chairman Elliott Summey said his impression is that public sentiment is split among three possible James Island sites.

“I don’t understand why this has to be so controversial. It’s just a library,” Summey said. “People in North Charleston are just happy to have books.”

And Summey said he was unsure if the Public Service District is really ready to move on price. “Every time they say they’re going to do something, they come back and do something different,” he said.

Councilman Anna Johnson also was skeptical of any request to postpone a vote.

“I think Mr. Qualey has asked us to delay several times already,” she said. “We delayed it at least twice for him. More than that. ... I’m not going to be accommodating this time to have any more delays. I don’t see the purpose of it.”

Johnson’s mother has owned a modest home next to the South Grimball Road site since the 1950s, and she brushed off opponents’ contention that that influenced her position on the site. “I don’t own the property. That is not going to be any conflict of interest for me,” she said. “For somebody to throw a cheap shot like that is just ludicrous.”

Last November, county voters approved a $100 million referendum for renovating and replacing several existing libraries and building two new ones. The James Island library currently is on Camp Road near Dills Bluff Road.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.