When Kevin Seagel slipped into Swain County’s courthouse during a mock exercise brandishing a pretend weapon, it only took emergency responders one minute to find him, but by then, he had already killed several people.
Although it has been spared for now, federal belt tightening could eventually lead the government to close its federal court site in Bryson City, which serves as the only one west of Asheville.
When it comes to Southerners, there are a few topics that get their blood pressure elevated — and one of those topics is flags.
They represent everything from historical ties, bloodshed, peace, pride and Nascar. They’re flown everywhere from government buildings to front porches to Wal-Mart.
Haywood County temporarily backed off its hard-line stance against tiny Confederate flags being stuck in the ground around the base of a memorial for Confederate soldiers on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Waynesville, but has once again started removing the flags.
After getting a complaint about the divisive symbol being placed on the courthouse lawn by Confederate supporters, the county decided to remove the tiny flags. That didn’t last long, however.
A protest was held this week in front of the Haywood County historic courthouse by Confederate supporters who say their flag is being discriminated against.
After years of talk and little action, Swain County is moving forward with a long-held dream to turn its iconic, domed courthouse into a cultural history museum and visitors center.
The architectural centerpiece of town, the old courthouse has been mostly empty for three decades since court functions moved out in the 1929s, aside from housing a senior center that has since relocated.
“We’ve had this vision for a long time,” said Ken Mills, executive director of economic development.
The county has seriously discussed such a transformation since 2009, though the idea was tossed around for years prior to that. In that time, Mills has not heard a derogatory comment about the county’s plans.
“We have never had anyone say it was a bad project, a useless project,” Mills said.
The cost of renovations is estimated at $750,000. But, by using some of its own building and maintenance employees to do some of the work, the county hopes to reduce the overall price tag, Mills said.
The county has taken out a $600,000 loan for the project. Another $100,000 is being kicked in by the Great Smoky Mountains Association, which will run a bookstore in the museum. The non-profit functions as a support arm for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, operating bookstores inside the park selling everything from guidebooks and maps to souvenirs.
The Swain County Chamber of Commerce will move at least part of its visitor center operations into the old courthouse. The chamber is not sure yet how much of its operations will move into the refinished courthouse, said Karen Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County chamber.
“We support this project. We very much look forward to this building being renovated,” she added.
Employees from the chamber and the Great Smoky Mountains Association will help man the center.
Several years ago, the county undertook a three-year planning process to identify what stories should be highlighted in such a museum. In addition to the natural and cultural heritage of Swain County, the museum will include the history of the national park, a major drawing card for tourists traveling to the region.
“The park’s history is our history,” Mills said.
The county has also reached out to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to see if they would be interested in being included in the museum exhibits.
The old building, located at the corner of Everett and Main streets, will also offer people access to public restrooms, which could provide crucial for downtown event attendees throughout the year.
Most of the estimated project cost will pay for renovating the second floor, which needs considerably more attention than the first floor.
The entrance level was redone in the 1980s and features up-to-date fixtures and molding. One of the few original parts of the building, which was erected in the 1920s, is its outward appearance.
“We’re not really sure how much we will be able to restore,” Mills said. “But, most of the things we have saved we’re going to try to keep and somehow put back in here.”
For example, the county saved the original seating from the upstairs courtroom but was unable to restore stamped tiles that decorated the ceiling.
In simply preparing for the renovation, county workers have uncovered several hidden elements of the old courthouse. At some point in its long history, the county decided to drop the ceiling level in the courtroom, concealing a number of small windows at the top of the walls.
In the past, unfortunate souls who found themselves face-to-face with the county judge could look up, through a window in the ceiling to a still functioning bell that crowns the old courthouse. Somewhere along the way, however, the windowpanes were painted white, depriving people of the view.
The main visible changes to the first floor will include new furniture and a long wooden counter where someone will greet and aid visitors, and vignettes painted on the walls, similar to those at the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park Oconaluftee Visitors Center at the park entrance outside Cherokee.
The upstairs portion, which will serve as the museum, is quite a different story. With some missing windows, no ceiling beyond wooden beams and a concrete floor that failed the pounds-per-square-inch test, the second floor will need the most renovation.
“We are going to end up redoing this whole upstairs,” Mills said.
The upper level once served as the courtroom and could in the future include artifacts such as the shell of a log cabin, showing how the people of Swain County once lived.
Several county residents have already offered to display their family artifacts in the museum.
Once construction begins, the renovations will take two years.
“We are hoping to get started soon,” Mills said.
Mills said the new visitor center and museum will hopefully draw more people, or rather potential customers, to the town.
In addition to renovating the building, the county plans to construct a parking lot behind the building that could be accessed via Main Street. Currently, the gravel-covered lot sits empty.
Mills said he did not know how much the lot would cost, but it has not been figured into the estimated renovation costs.
The county is also looking into put a small park next to the lot, where people can just sit or have lunch.
“We are hoping to have nice green space out there,” Mills said.
Haywood County is on the hook for $700,000 after an arbitration panel found the county wrongfully fired the contractor overseeing renovations to the historic courthouse four years ago.
The contractor sued the county for $2.3 million after being fired from the job. The county claimed the contractor was “significantly behind schedule” and was “incapable” of finishing the job they were hired to do.
Meanwhile, KMD Construction claimed it was working off inaccurate blueprints. As a result, the project took a lot longer than expected, and was more expensive.
The county refused to pay for cost overruns, however. KMD says it was left holding the bag and wants the county to pay up. The suit cites wrongful termination by the county and negligence by the county’s architect.
A panel of three arbitrators versed in construction and contract law heard the case this summer, but just issued their decision last week to award KMD damages.
Steven Smith, the attorney for KMD, said the decision proves the contractor was in fact not doing faulty work, despite repeated public criticism by the county accusing KMD of shoddy work.
“I think this vindicates them. I think this exonerates KMD,” Smith said.
The firm won money for change orders the county had never paid for and the unpaid balance on their contract, money the county withheld for work that was in fact completed, plus interest.
The county isn’t pleased about paying up, but isn’t totally surprised either.
“We anticipated we were going to have to pay something,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick.
The county had withheld more than $400,000 from what it owed the contractor, citing substandard performance and costs incurred by the county due to the rigmarole.
That money is still set aside, so coming up with the payment won’t be as bad as it sounds. That said, the county would have liked to come out a little better in the arbitration than it did.
“The award was probably more than what we anticipated, but it is obviously much less than what they ever offered to settle for,” Kirkpatrick said. The county attempted to negotiate a settlement but could not talk KMD below $2.3 million, Kirkpatrick said.
In addition to the monetary award, the arbitration panel found that KMD had been wrongfully fired by the county.
Smith said KMD was most excited about that.
“Anytime they did a public bid on a project they had to disclose they had been terminated from a public project and that is huge,” Smith said. “That is like a death sentence.”
Smith said the real issues with the job lay with the architect, which had faulty plans and provided inadequate design direction. But the architect, which apparently had the county’s ear, would blame the contractor.
“I think it is really unfortunate the county didn’t recognize from the outset this is the architect’s fault,” Smith said. “I think they were misled or at least the architects chose to eliminate certain details from the critical decision making process.”
Haywood County commissioners are now deciding whether to go after the architect of the job. They will weigh how much it would cost to sue the architect versus how much they could feasibly recover.
Legal fees have already proved a costly proposition.
The county spent more than $400,000 defending the lawsuit by the contractor.
Kirkpatrick said the county thought long and hard before firing KMD from the job, knowing that a lawsuit wouldn’t be out of the question.
By the same token, the county was paying rent to house its administrative offices elsewhere while work on the courthouse dragged on and on. And, the most important thing was that work would be done properly.
“It was a priority to make sure it was done in a manner the people of the county could be proud of,” Kirkpatrick said. “You certainly don’t want to screw up a building that had been there since the 1930s.”
Visitors to Bryson City will have a free place to go when nature calls once public restrooms are installed in the historic courthouse.
There are plans for the now-vacant courthouse to one day be home to a visitor’s center manned by the Great Smoky Mountains Association and a museum.
But for now, commissioners want to move forward with installing public bathrooms instead of waiting for the rest of the project to come online.
Putting men’s and women’s facilities into the historic structure will cost around $50,000. The county will pay for it with interest earned off the North Shore Road cash settlement.
This would be only the second project paid for with the long-awaited money, yet commissioners didn’t specifically vote on the measure. It will be embedded as a line item in the county’s budget.
The project idea was discussed in a county budget work session on Monday. The four commissioners at the meeting came to a consensus on the plan, and County Manager Kevin King made an administrative amendment to the proposed budget to include the bathroom costs.
The project will get the go-ahead if the budget is approved as-is at the commissioners’ next meeting on August 8.
Commissioners expressed their support of the idea, which would be the first phase of the old courthouse’s revitalization.
“That’d be the first step,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon. “I think we should.”
The final two portions of the revamp — the museum and visitor’s center, which might also feature a bookstore — must be completed simultaneously, said King.
He hopes they can be finished within the next two years.
What will be done with the remainder of the North Shore interest money this year, another $135,000 or so, remains to be seen.
Earlier in the summer, commissioners were ambivalent when asked about plans for the cash, as there was so little of it built up.
Several were in favor of a committee populated by community members that would vet and recommend projects, but no moves have been made to form such a body.
The first allocation from cash settlement money funded five granite pedestals outside the county’s administration marking major events in Swain’s history. The $20,000 pedestals were partially funded by a $7,500 grant.
The settlement is compensation from the federal government for a road that was flooded by the creation of Fontana Lake during WWII. The county has $12.8 million in the bank and is supposed to eventually receive $52 million.
The money itself will remain untouched, held in trust for the county by the N.C. Treasury Department, but the county gets the yearly interest. The funds made less than 2 percent return this fiscal year which was paid out at the end of June.
The new Jackson County Public Library Complex is located at 310 Keener Street in the renovated and expanded historic courthouse at the west end of Main Street in downtown Sylva.
Construction on the complex is scheduled to be completed sometime in April, 2011. It is anticipated that it will open to the public in May or June.
The hours of operation will be determined based on the amount of funding available from Jackson County.
There was strong public sentiment to keep the library in downtown Sylva. The historic courthouse was an unused building in downtown. It was decided that the best alternative for saving the courthouse was to incorporate it into the new JCPL Complex. This allows us to honor one of the most recognized symbols of Jackson County by making it part of one of the most important institutions – the public library.
Members of the community initially suggested the idea of incorporating a new library into the historic courthouse. In October, 2007, the Jackson County Commissioners voted to incorporate a new expanded library into the 1914 historic building and the surrounding grounds.
The ground floor will house the Genealogical Society, the Historical Association’s museum, a Conference Room, a vending area and built-in display cabinets. The second floor will feature the former courtroom as a multi-purpose Community Room with seating for over 150, the Arts Council’s office and a catering area.
Work began on the renovation and the construction in May 2009, almost two years ago.
The budget for the new complex is approximately $8.6 million. The County Commissioners asked the community to raise $1.5 million of this budgeted amount. The remaining $7.1 million is being paid by the county.
As of the end of February, 2011 the community has raised over $1.8 million. This includes $100,000 pledged to cover all the costs associated with the fundraising efforts.
The current library will be closed for approximately one month in order to facilitate the move up the hill. During this time the public will not have access to the library building, its collection and its computers. We apologize to all our customers who will be inconvenienced during this time particularly all of the students who regularly use the library after school.
The building and grounds belong to Jackson County. The furniture, fixtures, equipment and media materials belong to the Fontana Regional Library.
The building belongs to Jackson County. The county officials will determine its future use.
There will be a significant increase from the 16 spaces at the current library. There are additional parking spaces in the immediate vicinity along Keener Street adjacent to Bicentennial Park. Once the facility has been completed it is expected to be included on the regular route of Jackson County Transit.
The library staff will move over 40,000 items to the new facility. Approximately 24,000 new media items - books, DVDs, books on CD, and Playaways have been ordered - including 18,000 items for adults and 6,000 items for our young people.
There will be 16 in the computer lab, four in teen area, both upstairs, and eight in the children’s area, downstairs. These are public access computers. There will also be several laptops and netbooks available for checkout for use in the library.
The library will create a lifelong learning experience with its expanded collection, increased number of computers, and broader offering of programs. Customers will have the resources they need to explore topics of personal interest, access databases for reliable information, use computers to – check e-mails, find and fill out a government form, write resumes, compile a business plan for a new business, complete a homework assignment or compose a poem. Individuals can sit and enjoy the company of others or find a quiet spot to read and reflect. There will be something for everyone.
The Children’s Area, across from the main circulation desk, will be alive with materials, colors, displays, and programs focusing on early learning skills. There will also be a spacious storytime room with a big screen TV and a colorful floor. It will be the largest public space on the first floor of the new building.
On the second floor of the new addition there is an area designed by and dedicated to serving teens. There will be four computers, booths for use when working on group projects and WiFi throughout the complex. And, for the first time, there will be programs geared to teens.
There are a number of spaces available for the community to reserve for use. The Conference Room will seat 12 – 14, the Community Room, a multi-purpose room, will seat between 100 – 150 people. The Atrium, and the outdoor terrace and courtyard can also be reserved for special events.
Smaller spaces, which will not require reservations, will be available. There are three group study rooms which will seat eight people, two tutor rooms which are designed to accommodate two people, as well as comfortable seating, tables and chairs throughout the new addition.
To reserve space at the complex call the library to make a reservation. To finalize your reservation you will need to come in and complete a “Meeting Space Contract”. This document will outline the terms of the use agreement.
There is no cost to use space within the complex for library programs and community or non-profit groups. For-profit organizations and groups holding private functions, such as business meetings, luncheons, weddings and parties, will be required to pay a fee. The price structure is outlined in the “Meeting Space Contract”.
If the meeting or event is scheduled after hours, a key will be issued to a registered library card holder.
In the Community Room there is a state of the art sound system installed, along with high tech audio visual and computer equipment. The lectern will have built-in computer outlets so that personal computers can be used from the lectern. A portable sound system will be available for individuals and groups to use in other parts of the complex.
The library complex has a catering area where food can be warmed or kept cold before it is served at events throughout the complex.
There will be tables in various sizes which can be configured in a number of different ways. Freestanding chairs will also be available for up to fifty. Tablecloths will not be available.
The Jackson County policy is not to allow alcohol to be served or consumed in any county-owned building.
It is not possible to answer this question at this time. Jackson County, the primary provider of library funding, is in the process of reviewing budget requests. County officials are aware that there will be additional costs associated with operating a facility four times the size of the current library. The county decisions about funding are predicated, in part, on the county’s funding from the state. Additional information will be forthcoming.
Two new positions have been approved and the positions filled – an assistant county librarian and an information technology assistant.
Housekeeping and maintenance of the facility will be provided by Jackson County. Individuals or groups who use the spaces within the facility must follow the guidelines for room usage.
The 2007 JCPL Service Priorities and Facilities Plan recommends building two branch libraries of 5,000 square feet each by 2015 to accommodate our growing population.
Individuals wishing to make donations of materials to the library need to discuss this opportunity with the county librarian. Books which are considered highly collectible may be appropriate to place in the library’s Genealogy Room. If the book donations cannot be used in the library, materials will be given to the Friends of the Library Used Book Store to be sold. All the profits from the bookstore benefit the library.
The Friends of the Library Used Book Store will remain at its current location on Main Street in Sylva. The Friends of the Library will maintain a small office in the library complex.
Patrons can go to other libraries within the Fontana Regional Library system. A list will be compiled and shared with the public listing alternative facilities offering public access to the Internet in our area. For people who have their own laptops that are WiFi enabled, there are a number of WiFi hot spots on Main Street in Sylva.
Residents of Jackson, Macon and Swain Counties, residents of the surrounding counties and full-time students may apply for a Fontana Regional Library card. All that is required is a picture ID and something with a local mailing address. Part-time residents may obtain a temporary library card for a yearly price of $25. A child can get a card at birth.
There are numerous cafes and restaurants within walking distance. Vending machines will be available on-site as well.
Food and drink may be brought into the library and may be consumed anywhere except at the public access computers.
The entire complex will be WiFi accessible. Many of the tables and lamps will have plug in outlets in their base. There will be outlets around the walls near the soft seating.
Good things come to those who wait.
It’s an adage Jackson County library users will need to bear in mind this spring during a month-long closure of the Sylva branch during the massive move into its brand-new, first-class digs.
Librarians face the daunting task of packing up 35,000 books in circulation at the current library and arranging them in their new home. It can’t be done while continuing to keep the doors of the library open, according to Betty Screven, public relations chair with Friends of the Jackson County Library.
Volunteers with Friends of the Library are lining up to help with the operation. In fact, they’ve already started.
They have been combing the stacks of the Sylva library outfitting each book with a special radio-frequency identification tag. The new tags will take the place of the traditional barcodes used to check out books today.
Radio-frequency tags allow entire piles of books to be scanned at once, not only making it easier to check books in and out but also to keep track of collections. Librarians can inventory of a whole shelf in seconds without ever taking a book off. Library users will even be able to check out their own books.
The technology is considered cutting edge, but making the transition to the radio-frequency tags is too expensive and time consuming for most libraries to tackle.
The new library, which was constructed as an enormous wing on the back of the historic courthouse, will be more than three times bigger than the current one. The county is spending $8 million to build the library and restore the historic courthouse.
Jackson County Friends of the Library raised $1.8 million to furnish the library — from shelving to armchairs to desks — with $400,000 of that devoted to buying new books and materials. Newly purchased library items will come already equipped with the radio-frequency identification tags.
The new library will have a soft opening sometime in May with a grand opening planned for Saturday, June 11.