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Charleston County asks patrons at frequently flooded Windermere library: Stay or go?

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The Charleston County Public Library is looking for feedback on the future of the West Ashley Library to prevent further damage from flooding Thursday Feb. 13, 2020, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Before moving forward with renovations to the South Windermere library, county leaders want residents to weigh in: Should they renovate the space or find a new location instead?

The branch, close to the Windermere Shopping Center and West Ashley Greenway, has been flooded often in the past five years. The 6,000-square-foot branch on Windermere Boulevard has been closed at least a month each year either as a precaution or to allow for cleanup.

It was built in 1964 some 4½ feet below the flood elevation and often can take on about 15 inches of water.

As county leaders are poised to open two new branches, they are preparing to contract for renovation work at some others, including the Windermere branch. 

In 2014, 74 percent of Charleston County voters approved a $108.5 million referendum to build new libraries and renovate existing ones. There are currently 17 library branches across the county. A meeting on Tuesday was held at the library branch to discuss options there.

Nancy Vick, a longtime and frequent West Ashley patron, doesn't want the library to go anywhere. As a tutor, she's at the library two to three times a week. She lives nearby and will walk to the library on the weekends.

"I'm going to be 75 years-old, and I have eye issues," Vick said Friday. "It wouldn't be safe for me to be driving all over. I'm not interested in going into high-traffic areas."

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Books have been removed from the first two shelves at the West Ashley Library to avoid damage from flooding Thursday Feb. 13, 2020, in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

The library branch closes when extreme weather is forecast. Over the years, it has taken on more water — a walk up and down aisles shows signs of the water marks on bookshelves and cabinets.

Staff there has adapted: there are no books on the bottom two shelves of the library because that's where the flood line is.

"Yes, we can renovate it, yes we can stay there, but there's no guarantee we can maintain a presence there indefinitely," said Angela Craig, executive director of county libraries. "It might come to a point where the building is not viable at all."

The library has posted an online survey for people to take. After receiving requests from residents, the Charleston County Public Library and Charleston County Council extended the deadline for survey takers. The survey will be available online through Feb. 29. Some of the questions ask about the importance of size compared with location and how far people would be willing to travel (up to 5 miles). Click here for more information

The county can spend about $500,000 on improvements to repaint, new furniture, change ceiling lights and redo the children's area. If it spends more than $500,000 it would surpass the federal threshold to floodproof the property, and be forced to raise it. 

County Councilman Brantley Moody attended Tuesday night's meeting to hear from residents about the two proposals.

"My sense is that people just want to make sure there's a library in that area," Moody said. "People recognize there's a problem with the flooding."

Beth Bell, the library manager, said traffic ranges from 300 to about 500 people a day. Bell said she didn't have an opinion on what happens next, though she's been asked for her thoughts a lot this week. 

"I don't know what's the right thing to do, that's why we're asking for feedback," Bell said. 

For Dilyara Meeder, who lives in North Charleston, the library is her place to study two to three times a week while her children are at day care.

"It's the perfect location for me, but close by would be OK," Meeder said on Friday. 

Vick, the longtime library patron, said she took the survey, strongly recommending that the branch stay where it is or within a mile of where it is now.

"I'm going to be absolutely devastated if this library goes anywhere," she said. 

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.

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