Plans to build a new library branch in Jackson Township will move forward, the Stark County District Library Board decided Wednesday afternoon.

CANTON  Jackson Township will get a new library branch.

The Stark District Library Board decided Wednesday to scrap a recommendation that the branch remain in a leased storefront in the Marketplace at Nobles Pond, and said the district will follow its original plan to construct a new building. The new branch likely will be based in North Park and be tied to an amphitheater project Jackson Township wants to build.

Plans call for the library branch, called the SmartStore, to remain at the Nobles Pond store front until a new building can be built.

Steven Pittman, the library board's president, said all seven of the board's members agreed the district should follow its original plan. The board decision followed a review of a recommendation by Executive Director Tena Wilson to expand the SmartStore. While board members saw financial advantages to the recommendation, they determined there were greater benefits to building a branch, Pittman said.

Now the library board's building committee will move forward with planning and design. The board already has talked with an architect, but no timeline is in place for the project. Pittman said the board wants to proceed as quickly and prudently as possible.

Residents rally

While residents have used the SmartStore, which opened in August 2016, many have complained about the location. Patrons contend the branch is too small, lacks room for children's programs, and has a reduced collection.

In late July, Wilson told the library board that she was considering keeping the SmartStore open. She cited the high use of the branch's collection, as well as a large number of visitors. Wilson was considering enlarging the SmartStore, but when residents heard the plan they rallied and launched a campaign for a new building.

"We appreciate your strong and passionate commitment to the library," Pittman told the crowd who attended Wednesday's meeting, referencing an Aug. 31 board meeting and three special community meetings that drew large crowds.

"It's good when people care about their library so much that they want more," Wilson said after the meeting.

The library district built a branch in Jackson Township's North Park during the early 1990s. The township donated the land, while elected officials and community groups helped raise money for the building.

Early in 2016, library officials determined the building needed upgrades to adjust for new technology and repairs because of extensive water damage. But the cost to upgrade and repair the building was comparable to the cost of building new, so the district decided to close the branch and have it demolished.

The library district relocated the branch to Nobles Pond, and opened the SmartStore as a temporary location. The change came as the township learned it would receive $1 million toward amphitheater, so plans called for the library district and township officials to collaborate on a new building in North Park.

But building plans have been on hold since Wilson's recommendation the SmartStore be expanded.

Moving forward

Township officials were surprised by Wilson's recommendation. Jackson Township trustees and Fiscal Officer Randy Gonzalez launched a professional survey to find out how township residents felt about the situation. The results showed overwhelmingly that residents wanted to see a new branch built.

Gonzalez and Trustees President Todd Hawke attended Wednesday's library board meeting and said they were pleased with the decision. They hope to pick up with previous discussions of building a branch in North Park.

"We're ready to work with them however the board wants," Hawke said.

Pittman said the library board appreciated that Wilson made the recommendation to expand and maintain the SmartStore location. He said Wilson has been asked to look at ways to bring change to the district and modernize operations.

Wilson said she made the recommendation because she believed it needed to be considered. Wilson said she wanted to determine if expanding the location would provide meeting space, tutoring rooms, and additional room for books. She noted that data indicated the SmartStore, despite the space constraints, was being used and was extremely cost effective. The district also faced the problem of cuts in state funding, she said.

Pittman said the library board needed time to review the recommendation and assess economic factors. That work was done over the past month. It also helped that the board heard from local residents, he said.

Wilson agreed that comments from residents helped the library board and staff evaluate the situation. The information swayed her to revise her recommendation and move forward to building a branch.

"It's the best thing for the library and the best thing for the Jackson community," she said.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or edd.pritchard@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @epritchardREP