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ncbrian

A new central library as a revitalizing force for Winston Salem

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(see the article "Are libraries still relevant today?" on why I think libraries still have a place in today's society)

Winston-Salem NC has a central library for the city located on Fifth St downtown. Historically, it is built on property that was the original Reynolds manor before the Reynolds moved to their country mansion on Reynolda Rd. It is a decent size building with all of the key components to what I deemed essential for a successful library: ample reading materials, space for groups to have meetings, forums for speakers, a repository of local historical archives, and an active educational program that works with everyone of all ages.

But the building is fifty years old and is showing its age. The Journal devoted a special article in its Sunday paper not too long ago outlining its problems. It lacks space to expand its computer section. It is also not the most appealing of buildings with its brutal post-modern grey exterior. it also has a reputations as a hangout for the homeless. As it was built in parts over several decades, it is poorly laid out and lacks a central focus. Yet despite all of this, the Central Library attracts about 1,000 visitors a day makes it one of the most heavily trafficked buildings downtown. While there is less of a demand for its traditional role of providing books for borrowing, there is a high demand for its Internet resources which is not just simply browsing the Internet but also the access to specialised resource databases like NCLive which are not readily available to the general public except through libraries.

Also, in the downtown area, there is a distinct lack of civic institutions for the public to enjoy other than the library. There are no public museums, art galleries or parks. So where would these people go? There is no question that a well designed library can draw in people who would never had visited the library since high school. They may come to see what is new, find out what programs are available, what speakers are coming to visit and so on. They may become patrons of the library. The library may become the social hub around which downtown living may revolve. For the people of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, the North Carolina room in the current library, dedicated for the study and preservation of local and state history resources, can evolve to something much more through displays of local art and providing a location for programs dedicated to sharing the vast knowledge contained within the archives. While downtown Winston has quite a few coffee shops, most of them are open only during weekday business hours. A coffee shop on the premises open during library hours can give people the amenities which they have become accustomed to from Barnes & Noble or Borders. It becomes a destination for people.

Many cities now are looking to new central libraries as a way to revitalise their downtowns. Greensboro's new downtown library has been a great success. A better example would be the new library in downtown Jacksonville FL. The library was included as one of the key goals of a significant building plan for the city financed through a sales tax increase. The library design itself, a neo-classical type, was the result of an international competition (see pictures of it at UrbanPlanet). The library has become a great success and brings more people to downtown and therefore bringing business to downtown as people may linger downtown to dine and maybe shop in the Arts District.

For Winston-Salem, a new Central Library is estimated to cost $20 million which is not a small sum by any means. It could be funded by a bond issue or taken out of the same county construction budget which the schools use. Then there is the question of location. The old building could be demolished to re-use the current site but that would mean losing the Central Library for several years and scattering its contents far and wide throughout the other libraries and placing the rest in storage. This is not the best solution. Is there another suitable location downtown that could be used? Perhaps one of the new residential developments can be reworked to include the library on shared property or through a property swap.

By itself, a library will not magically transform downtown Winston-Salem but as I have mentioned in prior posts about downtown living, it is these incremental improvements that make the difference. While a plan is nice to keep things orderly, buildings and other improvements should not be forced into location just to fill a requirement but all should develop in an organic fashion. By nature, that is a slow and prolonged business but it does work and things just feel right when it is allowed to do so.

Still, if and when they do build a new Central Library downtown in Winston Salem, I will be there when they open the doors to the public for the first time.

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Yeah that old library's seen better days. It's a shame cause the neighborhood around it's kind of well... dead :( It's all just parking lots and gas stations. Not very pedestrian friendly and it doesn't entice people to take a stroll downtown. Maybe if they plan a new library they'll take the neighborhood into account. (well that's exactly what the article was saying! :thumbsup: )

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the central library is severely dated and needs some attention quickly. everytime i go there, it feels like i step backed into the 60'sor 70's. its pretty pathetic for a city this size.

i remember when unity place was first announced, the library revealed its plans for a major renovation and expansion. they even talked about turning one of those historic homes into a museum. im not sure if its the one on 5th opposite the library or the one on the west side... but it was a pretty ambitious plan. i know Forsyth cant afford it right now, maybe some other type of funding could help.

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the central library is severely dated and needs some attention quickly. everytime i go there, it feels like i step backed into the 60'sor 70's. its pretty pathetic for a city this size.

i remember when unity place was first announced, the library revealed its plans for a major renovation and expansion. they even talked about turning one of those historic homes into a museum. im not sure if its the one on 5th opposite the library or the one on the west side... but it was a pretty ambitious plan. i know Forsyth cant afford it right now, maybe some other type of funding could help.

When I read the history of the library in researching for this post, much of the original funding came from civic minded individuals which you could say the city fathers like Ralph Hanes. They would announce they were raising funds for something and by the end of the week, all of it was raised. Of course that was in the heyday of the industrial managers and owners who dominated civic life in Winston: the Hanes, Grays, the Reynolds and so on. Such people are not around anymore.

Perhaps a non-profit corporation could be set up to solict funds for the library to at least pay for the acquistion of land and design using the current property as a bargaining asset. By then, the county may have some funds available to start construction and then use a bond issue to complete the building.

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Who thinks the old courthouse at 4th and Main (rehabbed) would be a good replacement? It seems like a good way to save a historical building and it's a better location.

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Who thinks the old courthouse at 4th and Main (rehabbed) would be a good replacement? It seems like a good way to save a historical building and it's a better location.

In its current form, it is too small. If they build on top of it, it may work but that would require gutting the interior of the courthouse which I understood to have some historical significance. As for the exterior of the building, there is not much striking about it or to be proud about so I would not try to work the facade into a new building.

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that would be a good location but i think parking would be considered an issue....even though there are two decks very close by.

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