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Library plan worries North Charleston residents

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Cooper River Memorial Library

North Charleston resident Turkessia Burns regularly uses the computers at the Cooper River Memorial Library on Rivers Avenue. Charleston County officials in April will release plans for the library, which could be part of a larger social services building or campus. Diane Knich/Staff

The Cooper River Memorial Library for years has provided consistent and needed services in a neighborhood that has faced hard times, and some people are concerned about its future.

North Charleston residents have looked forward to getting a new high-tech library that will replace the aging branch at Rivers Avenue and Dorchester Road. But some think a plan to fold it into a larger social services building is problematic.

Others worry about the current library closing before the new one opens. Many nearby residents don't own cars, so it could be difficult for them to get to another, temporary location. 

Charleston County spokesman Shawn Smetana said the county is considering options for the new library, including making it part of a larger building or part of a campus with social service agencies. Such agencies could include alcohol and drug treatment services and offices for the Department of Health and Environmental Control. 

Those options will be presented to County Council in April, he said.

Amanda Hollinger, who lives in the Park Circle area and uses the library, said voters approved a separate library building, and that is what's best for the community. The original plan called for the new library to be built next to the existing one — on the site of the former Sheriff's Office building. The current library was to be torn down when the new one was complete.

Mixing library services with high-risk social services simply isn't a good idea, she said.

"All of those services are important," she said, "but they should be separate."

She said she knows the county is scrambling to get a new social services building after its plans to use the former Navy hospital on Rivers Avenue fell apart.

"But the problems the county is having shouldn't be solved on the back of this library," she said, adding that she expects a big crowd at County Council when it takes up the issue.

In 2014, Charleston County voters approved a new 15,000-square-foot Cooper River branch as part of a $108 million referendum that included five new libraries, renovations to 13 existing ones and a new support services building. 

While the library board promoted the referendum, Charleston County's Facilities Department is handling the building plan.

"That's not where the library should be," said Byron Campbell, who works in North Charleston and regularly uses the Cooper River branch.

A library should be a calm place, where children and elderly people feel comfortable, he said. It shouldn't be connected to a social services center, he said, adding, "That's a lot of commotion."

Social service agencies often have a lot of long lines, he said, and people waiting in them are frustrated.

"People just aren't happy to be there," he said. "It's common sense those two (uses) shouldn't be combined."

But Turkessia Brown, a nursing student at Trident Technical College who regularly uses the computers at the library, said she's not opposed to a mixed-use building where people could take care of different kinds of business in one place.

But she doesn't like the idea of the library temporarily moving somewhere else. It's now in a great location on a bus line, she said.

Smetana said demolition on the former Sheriff's department building behind the library currently is under way, and county officials hope it will be done this summer.

"The county would like to keep the branch open during construction, but it will ultimately depend on the final decision," he said. 

Ryan Johnson, spokesman for the city of North Charleston, said city officials support the plan to combine the library with the social services building.

"When buildings serve the public, it makes the most sense to combine them," he said. 

Johnson also said there is a limited amount of land available in North Charleston, and the city needs to use it efficiently. 

Campbell said those living near the Cooper River Memorial Library really need its services.

"For this neighborhood, this is how some people look for a job," he said. "If you take this from the neighborhood, where will they go?"

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.

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