Northside leaders differ on how to address the city of Jackson’s library crisis.
Since April, the Charles Tisdale Library has been closed, with no signs the branch will be reopening soon.
And since October, the Eudora Welty Library’s second floor has been off limits to the public, per an order of the state fire marshal.
On top of that, the Willie Morris Library has sustained major water damage as a result of a leaky roof.
Library problems are all the more urgent, as the Jackson-Hinds Library System is expected to move its offices out of its temporary location on Lakeland Drive by September.
The offices were moved there after the previous offices had to be vacated because of black mold.
Jackson Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote, Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay and Hinds County District One Supervisor Robert Graham said the current situation is unacceptable.
However, the three differ on how the problems should be addressed.
Graham said the county is willing to help, but finding additional funds for maintenance would be a challenge.
Both Jackson and Hinds County raised property taxes last year to balance their budgets.
“I don’t know if the county has the wiggle room in (its) budget,” he said.
Foote believes Tisdale and Welty could be relocated to other city-owned facilities at little expense.
“The mayor has a list of all the properties the city owns. We need to look at those and see if they’ll work for Tisdale and Eudora Welty and move forward,” he said.
Foote said another option could be moving Tisdale to a building on Chastain Drive that was formerly home to Virginia College.
Officials with the Jackson-Hinds Library System proposed purchasing the 15,000-square-foot structure last year, citing its size and proximity to the existing Tisdale branch, which is on East Northside Drive.
“I thought that was a good option. It keeps it in the area, in the neighborhood and supporting the schools,” Foote said.
Lindsay said before any decision is made, the city needs to conduct a facilities study to determine the condition of existing library properties, and whether other city buildings would be suitable candidates for relocation.
“Libraries can’t go just anywhere because the weight of the books make it a structural issue,” she said. “There is an engineering question that has to be answered.”
The three do not blame the library’s current leadership for the crisis, nor do they believe any branches should be consolidated.
“The libraries need to be spread out so people can get to them and have one close (by),” Foote said. “If you consolidate, you make it harder on some citizens.”
Graham said the problems stemmed not from poor leadership on the library’s part, but rather a lack of maintenance of library buildings by the city and county.
“Some of the problems came up overnight. Some have been lingering for years. It’s a lack of continuing maintenance,” he said. “That’s the reason some of the problems exist.”
Foote, though, was concerned that books at the Tisdale branch had not been moved out, despite threats from the mold.
Jackson-Hinds Executive Director Patty Furr told the Sun last year the books needed to be moved to prevent them from being infested with the mold. However, at a January city council meeting, she informed members the books were still being held there.
“I was surprised to hear that,” Foote said. “I was disappointed to hear that.”
The libraries are managed by the Jackson-Hinds system, the buildings themselves are owned and maintained by the city of Jackson or Hinds County.
Jackson owns seven library facilities in the city limits, while the rest are owned by Hinds County or the city of Clinton.
It was not known at press time how much it would cost to repair the buildings, and Furr did not have a cost estimate. She referred questions to the mayor’s office.
Jackson Director of Communications Kai Williams couldn’t be reached before deadline.
Tisdale was closed last April, after heavy storms caused extreme flooding in the basement and parking lot.
That flooding, in turn, exacerbated the building’s pre-existing black mold problem, causing it to expand and get into the facility’s air conditioning and heating units.
Black mold can cause severe respiratory problems.
The city insures the building with Travelers Insurance, for $700,000 to $750,000, and filed a claim on the damages last summer. The policy carries a $200,000 deductible.
Some, including Furr, hoped the insurance policy’s proceeds could have been used to purchase the Virginia College building. Owners were asking $975,000 for the location, which includes 10,000 square feet of library space and another 5,000 square feet, which could be used for administrative offices.
The city also could lease the building for $1,900 a month.
However, Travelers has refused to pay the whole amount, and any plans to repair or relocate the facility remain in limbo.
“There is a discrepancy as to what the insurance views as what the extent and cost of the damages are,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba told the Sun previously. “They are willing to cover (damages), but not to the extent we believe they should.”
It was not known how much Travelers had offered to pay.
City attorneys were still looking into the Tisdale claim last week.
Foote said the city needs to act on Tisdale, whether the insurance comes through or not.
“We’ve known it was a problem since April and we still haven’t taken action,” he said. “We can’t wait on some change from the insurance company.”