Swannanoa Library to remain open amid community outcry

THE RIGHT THING: Allen Dye, chair of the Swannanoa Community Council, commended the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners for doing "the right thing" after it voted to continue services at the Swannanoa Library. Photo courtesy of Buncombe County

The Swannanoa Library will remain open after an unexpected vote by Buncombe County commissioners on March 7 that reversed a previous decision to close the library branch.

The county announced last month that the lease for the Swannanoa Library would not be renewed when it ends in June. The announcement cited $635,000 in repairs needed for the facility. In 2021, the county reviewed 38 county facilities and ranked them on a scale from poor to excellent, and the Swannanoa Library ranked last. When the lease ends, the library’s resources would have been reallocated to other libraries in the county, according to the Feb. 13 announcement.

Community members organized in response, showing up to speak out against the closure during Thursday night’s Board of Commissioners meeting. The issue was not on the published meeting agenda, but during a briefing held earlier in the day, Chair Brownie Newman requested that a discussion about the library be added to the regular meeting agenda.

At the meeting, Commissioner Terri Wells made a motion to continue library services at the existing location while options are explored for continuing and improving library services in the Swannanoa Valley.

“Part of the intention of this motion is to create some additional runway out there for discussion around what library services in this part of the county can be,” Newman said. “I’m sure lots of folks who we’ve heard from and talked to who love the current library are also aware of its limitations and challenges. What we’re looking for is a good discussion about what can best serve this part of Buncombe County for the long term.”

Allen Dye, board chair of the Swannanoa Community Council, said during public comment, “I came with some prepared remarks tonight to try to implore this commission to do what I believe that you knew was the right thing, and you beat me to it. You did the right thing.”

While commenters were pleasantly surprised by the board’s decision to temporarily suspend the closure, many still expressed concern about the decision to close the library being made without public input. Twenty-one people spoke about the matter during the public comment period of the meeting. People talked about their personal ties to the library, the positive impact that the library has on the Swannanoa community and the dismay they felt at the sudden decision to close their local library branch.

“It is alarming that an already underserved community could be deprived of a vital resource without public input,” said Swannanoa resident Michael Hosford, reiterating several commenters’ concern about the process behind the decision.

“We think the wider issue is how the decision was made,” said community member Matt Barker. “We think that ought to be a concern to everybody in Buncombe County.”

Other speakers echoed Barker’s concerns about a lack of public input and transparency in how the decision to close the library was made. Takira Rose, who identified herself as an employee of the Buncombe County library system, said during public comment that the announcement is representative of a lack of transparency and communication surrounding decisions made by the county. She described communication about decisions made by the county as “often sudden and surprising” and said it was hard to understand if there is a comprehensive vision for the future of library services and how this decision fits into that vision.

According to a press release sent out after the meeting, operations will continue at the current location until a new location in the Swannanoa Valley is identified. The current building will then be returned to the Swannanoa Community Council, the nonprofit organization that owns the building.

County seeks grant funding for recovery housing

Buncombe County will apply for a grant to fund housing for people recovering from substance abuse disorder. The funds are part of the federal Community Development Block Grant program managed by the N.C. Division of Commerce, of which $1,506,320 is set aside for the Appalachian region of North Carolina.

The county could receive up to $1 million to be used for low- to moderate-income housing. That could include purchasing, building or renovating property — anything that would expand the number of beds available in the community, according to Victoria Reichard, county behavioral health manager.

Specific details about how the grant would be used will be presented on Tuesday, April 2 as part of a draft application, but Reichard said the plan will be informed by the county’s recovery housing report that was paid for with funds received through the opioid settlement. Support for recovery housing is part of the county’s long-term strategy for using opioid settlement funds.

Reichard identified three specific expectations for any providers that would receive the recovery housing grant funds: the allowance of medication for treatment of opioid use disorder, certification through the N.C. Association of Recovery Residences and a focus on being culturally responsive to marginalized communities.

Commissioner Martin Moore asked if there is a rubric or metric that will be used to identify which project or provider would receive funding.

“Our biggest thing right now is timeline,” said Reichard. “The ideal situation would be potentially someone who is already in that recovery housing space and has property that they are interested in expanding.”

The application deadline is Friday, April 12, and the county will be notified in May if grant funds are awarded.



Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Swannanoa Library to remain open amid community outcry

  1. Audrey

    It’s appalling that the Buncombe county commissioners continue to make decisions that effect the public, with no public input.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.