A planned expansion for the East Asheville Library has been a long time coming.
“I want to see us go ahead and get it approved, because when you all started working on the library, my hair was black,” said Commissioner Al Whitesides at the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 20, “and if we don’t move ahead with it, I might look like Joe.”
Commissioner Joe Belcher, who is balding, smiled at Whitesides’ quip.
Despite projections showing it could cost more than initially estimated, the long-awaited renovations to the East Asheville Library, located at 902 Tunnel Road, received unanimous approval from the Board of Commissioners.
“One of the main issues has been that this has come in about $1.3 million more than an initial architectural estimate that we had,” interim County Manager George Wood told commissioners. “It’s our opinion that we should move forward on this library.”
Wood said the county underspent its fiscal year 2018 budget by about $4.5 million, and he proposed that the county use its fund balance to pay for the added $1.3 million cost.
The library will grow from 2,717 to 14,665 square feet and will add dedicated spaces for children, teenagers and adults. Programs and learning activities will get more room, as will collections.
Despite being the third-smallest library in the Buncombe County system, Assistant County Manager Jim Holland said the East Asheville Library has the fifth-highest circulation rate of the 13 county libraries. “It’s a very well-used and active branch library,” he said.
The county’s new library director, Jim Blanton, said expansion plans should meet the needs of the community the library serves. “When you look at libraries moving forward, they’re really hubs of lifelong learning and community engagement,” he said. “So you want certain programmatic elements to be incorporated in those.”
Before he interviewed for the job, Blanton remembers touring the county’s libraries. The East Asheville Library was notable for its busyness, he said.
“In fact, they were having a children’s program that day, and there was as sign up saying, ‘Beware, there’s going to be noisy children in here,’” he said. “So you really want to dedicate space so those kinds of activities can take place while other functions take place, and I think this design really checks that box.”
The county has completed schematic design for the building. The board’s Nov. 20 vote authorized county staff to proceed with commissioning detailed plans, which will include architectural, foundation and building system design. The design team will develop contract bid documents, which the county’s construction manager at risk will use to advertise for bids. The project will come back to the board for authorization before construction starts.
Michael Greene settles with county
Commissioners also agreed to accept a $40,000 settlement from former county employee Michael Greene as payment for relief sought in Buncombe County’s civil lawsuit against Greene and his mother, former County Manager Wanda Greene.
Federal prosecutors charged Michael Greene in April with charging about $7,500 in personal purchases to his county-issued purchase card. “It was discovered that, while he had not been indicted on other matters, the total amount that Buncombe County was probably out by his misdeeds was approximately $38,000,” said attorney Ron Payne, who has been working to recoup money the county says was stolen by former county officials.
According to an indictment filed in April, the county previously ordered Greene to pay back $1,579 after the county’s internal auditor determined during a January 2009 audit that Greene was making inappropriate purchases on his county credit card.
Greene pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiring to commit an offense against the United States. The plea deal included a requirement that Greene forfeit about $11,700, which court documents say he acquired directly or indirectly from the offenses for which he pleaded guilty.
In July, county commissioners approved a settlement totaling more than $2 million from Guardian Life Insurance Co., the company Wanda Greene allegedly used to purchase whole-life insurance policies for herself, her son and eight other county employees. An annuity was purchased for an additional employee.
Payne said Michael Greene assigned his policies back to the county.
Payne recommended on Nov. 20 that the settlement keep open the possibility of future measures against Greene. “In other words, should something else be discovered that is not specifically referenced in the release, we would be free to pursue Mr. Greene in a legal action if you so chose to do so,” Payne said.
Board Chair Brownie Newman said arriving at an agreed settlement amount marked another step toward the board’s goal of making county taxpayers fully whole for money that was allegedly misappropriated by former county officials.
“In the big scheme of things, this was one of the somewhat smaller items in there,” Newman said, “but it’s an important one [in] that each of the folks who misappropriated funds take steps to repay that.”