Residents voice opinions at public hearing concerning proposed library

A packed courthouse community room Monday, June 26, 2006, was the scene of a public hearing in regards to the Community Development Block Grant that Haakon County is applying for to help fund the proposed new library.

The public hearing was just one of many HUD requirements that have to be met to qualify for the CDBG. Other requirements include an income survey and an environment assessment. Chantal Wright from the Central South Dakota Enhancement District informed the audience that state and federal government agencies would be involved along with the South Dakota State Historical Society. The Historical Society would be involved because the Haakon County Courthouse, while not on the South Dakota Historical Register, is still a historic building. Wright noted that many steps still have to be taken; this was just the start of the process.

Two individuals were concerned with the cost of maintenance and upkeep of the proposed library. They believed that taxpayers would end up paying these costs in the future. They also believed that the Haakon County Commissioners needed to look further into repair of the existing courthouse restrooms, rather than building restrooms in a connector between the courthouse and the proposed library.

Keith Emerson stated he believed, “courthouses are buildings that are revered by the people of their counties.” He wanted to look at other options such as the Kennedy or Waddell buildings, and possibly moving other first floor offices to the fourth floor when the city moves out of the courthouse. Emerson also felt that the commissioners had jumped into this issue to solve the water and plumbing problem. “I’m objecting to the size and location of this library,” said Emerson. It is outlandish and out of proportion,” he said in regards to the proposed library’s size.

Vern Foland was concerned with how many people would be using the library in the future. He stated that with the Internet availability fewer people would be using the library for research. “Whose going to drive 30 to 60 miles to use the library when with the Internet you can get what you need from there?” he asked.

Supporters of the library noted that not everyone has Internet service because they can not afford the service. Jennifer Henrie noted that the library is the center of a town. She added it is an investment in the town and helps to keep people here as well as bring in others. Kelly Blair cautioned residents to not drive a wedge between the rural and town residents. The two groups rely on each other to survive. He noted, as a member of the school board, that the school cannot use the Internet to its full extent because of concerns with some of the websites. He added that the school has a hard time keeping the encyclopedias up to date.

Annie Brunskill, chairman of the Haakon County Public Library, stated that this process started many years ago. “The library board hasn’t done anything without thoroughly checking it out before making a decision,” she said.

Diane Fitch, president of the Friends of the Library stated she felt with grant monies, not just those from CDBG funds, along with a capital campaign the money could be raised for the proposed library. “That is what the Friends are asking. Give us a chance to raise the money,” said Fitch.

The commissioners unanimously passed a motion to continue with the process and formally apply for the $500,000 CDBG grant. Statements taken at the Monday meeting will be included in the application that will be given to the governor’s office of economic development. All, some or none of the monies could be awarded to the project. Several months of follow-up and additional requirements need to be met before the library and the county will hear if an award will be presented.