Civil Talk About a New Library

04/29/2013 3:00 PM

04/27/2013 11:10 PM

How much have relations between Myrtle Beach and Horry County officials warmed in recent years?

County Councilman Marion Foxworth’s offhand remark at last week’s meeting about Chapin Memorial Library was a good indication:

“They’re still giving us plastic cups.”

Foxworth was joking about the 1998 incident when fiery and divisive former Mayor Mark McBride broke his water glass while fighting with other members of City Council. And it says a lot not only that Foxworth can now joke about such incidents, but that leaders from both councils could sit down together for a productive, civil meeting about what needs to be done with the city’s library.

It’s a discussion that’s long overdue. While the downtown Myrtle Beach library continues to be staffed by dedicated employees and volunteers who do their best to provide wonderful service to residents and visitors, its building has long since outlived its useful life.

“That building is not salvageable as a modern library,” said County Councilman Brent Schulz during the meeting. “You’re exactly right,” agreed county libraries Director Clif Boyer.

All parties agreed that the current site of Chapin Memorial was too small, too old and too inefficient. And so it seems likely that a new library, perhaps double in size, will be built instead at another site. Plenty of suggestions for that location were floated, including spots near the city’s convention center, in the Ninth Avenue North area near other city buildings, on county-owned land on Harrelson Boulevard in the area of the current county government complex off 21st Avenue North. Foxworth promoted the idea of combining construction of a new library with a new county complex, something he said is already needed in Myrtle Beach.

But any idea is just that at this point. “We wouldn’t start construction on something like this for several years,” Schulz said. There will be plenty more talk before shovels hit the ground or concrete is laid. But the fact that any formal talks are happening at all is something to celebrate.

Long-time resident Barbara Horner, who is on the city’s library advisory board, called Friday’s meeting “historic,” noting that while talk has long swirled about the county library system moving into the city, no formal steps have ever taken place, at least until Friday.

Construction of a brand new library won’t be free (the most recent ones built by Horry County cost $3 million to $3.5 million), but long term this city-county cooperation would likely be good news for city taxpayers. The city now pays about $1.1 million a year to run Chapin Memorial (the only city-run library in the state). Horry County, on the other hand, spends $4.2 million to run 10 facilities, taking advantage of more efficient facilities and economies of scale to keep its costs per library lower. The city and county will likely spar a bit about which pocket future funding will come out of, but bringing a new facility under the Horry County Memorial Library umbrella should at least lower that annual operating cost.

Friday’s meeting was only the first of what will be many discussions in the coming months and years, but it laid a good groundwork for reaching a common goal: Bringing the Myrtle Beach library into the Horry County library fold, and helping the city of Myrtle Beach, as Councilman Wayne Gray put it, get “out of the library business.”

For library lovers, it’s encouraging to see our leaders taking the needed steps to ensure that the institutions survive for the next generation.

And for those of us who just like government that works, it’s encouraging to see our leaders able to sit down together to talk without smashing the crockery.

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