JACKSON TWP. The Stark County District Library Board of Trustees held the first of two meetings on Tuesday evening to give Jackson Township residents a chance to express their opinions on whether to rebuild the Jackson Branch Library or to expand the SmartStore it in its location inside one of the stores in the Marketplace at Nobles Pond shopping plaza.
The meetings were scheduled to be held at the current branch location but with increased interest, they were moved to the Main Hall Auditorium at Kent State Stark. The second meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the same location.
Five of the seven members of the library’s board of trustees who attended Tuesday were Susan Rodgers, Sally Efremoff, Robin Mingo-Miles, Bob Belden and John Mroczkowski. Executive Director Tena Wilson opened the meeting by recapping why the meeting was being held.
"The board was presented with a recommendation two weeks ago and as of now, there has been no decision made whether to stay in the plaza or build a new library," Wilson said. "Based on our quantitative analysis, the library leadership has recommended staying in the plaza location and immediately expanding into an adjourning store to provided more space to meet the needs of the community."
The library presented a few facts about the existing location versus building a new location. The current site is 4,680 square feet and the expansion would double the space. The old library building, which was built in the early 1990s demolished in July, was 15,000 square feet. The estimated cost to construct a new building is $4.7 million. The rent on the storefront location is $4,800 or $18 a square foot per month for the first five years and will go up to $20 per square foot in year six.
"The building was torn down because of major structural issues that started occurring on day one of opening that building," Wilson said "The board continued to try to address the issues as best they could. Some of the more serious issues included drainage that was below grade."
The meeting addressed three major issues posed by the library board including:
Need: What does the community need now and in the future?
Location: What are the benefits of staying in the plaza versus building in the park?
Investment: Should the investment be in more buildings or more materials and services?
Many Jackson Township residents and some elected officials have expressed their desire to see a new building constructed in North Park, where the previous building was before it was torn down in July. Jackson trustees announced results from a scientific poll they conducted during a work session at their regular Tuesday evening meeting. Many of the residents who attended that meeting came to the library meeting carrying copies of the polling results.
The auditorium at Kent State was more than half full of Jackson Township residents. Many of the concerns from residents were focused on the need for more space, the safety of the parking lot and having kids and seniors crossing traffic in the busy parking lot, having a library between two bars located on either side of the library and the lack of handicap accessibility. The condition of the parking lot during winter was another issue and many said keeping the parking lot free of ice and snow was completely out of the library’s control.
Others said North Park needs a building that would create a community center or a place for the people to gather for meetings, for reading, for learning and for creating a culture within the community. One mother said that her kids used to visit the previous library and sit between the shelfs and get lost in reading books. She said her kids can’t find many children’s books in the current location and there is little privacy in the SmartStore location to encourage reading while in the library.
More privacy issues were brought up because of the lack of private meeting rooms in the storefront location. There were many residents who said they have started using other library branches such as Plain Township, Sippo Lake or the Massillon Library rather than use the storefront location.
Many said they were shocked to hear that the library was recommending staying in the storefront location long-term. Some said it was a bait and switch scenario. One resident said the people in the township invested in the library system by voting for the library’s levy with the expectation that the library would return that investment by providing a new building. Many expressed that they may not vote for the next library levy in 2019.
Others couldn’t believe that staying in the location was even an option. Many said they were told that the plaza location was only temporary. The audience was asked by residents a couple of times to raise a hand if anyone wanted the library to stay in the storefront. Nobody raised their hand.
Residents also expressed their displeasure in the meeting location, suggesting Jackson High School would have been better and more accessible versus the parking and the long walk into Kent State at Stark.
The meeting started to get tense when residents started asking why the old building was demolished before any plans were developed for a new building. Wilson tried to answer but residents started talking over her and she was only able to say there were no plans in place for a new building at this time. The trustees have a preliminary plan for building an amphitheater that shows a library in North Park next to the amphitheater, but no actual plans for a new building exist.
Someone asked if any of the five board members had visited the storefront location and all said they had visited it and most said they had been there multiple times.
"Right now we have one recommendation presented to us by Wilson and her team who take this situation very serious. The board’s goal in holding these meetings is to gather feedback from the community before making any decision," said Board Member Susan Rodgers.
The next regular board meeting for the library board is scheduled for 5 p.m., Sept. 27 at the Main Library in downtown Canton. Rodgers said Jackson residents can get more information by visiting the library’s website which has a list of frequently asked questions. Visit the site at https://starklibrary.org/home/about/board-of-trustees/.