Pam Dudding-Burch Contributing writer
Craig County hosted a “visionary” community meeting on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, in the Craig County High School Cafeteria led by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to discuss the need for building of a new library for Craig.
Doug Jackson and Joe Blevins – both from Richmond – and Christina Owens from the Abingdon Regional Office represented DHCD, with Doug conducting the meeting. He first asked participants to name significant events and dates in the history of Craig County in order to create a “Craig County Story”. “Our history ranged from 1756, when George Washington visited this Craig outpost, to more recent times involving the startup of the library,” various attendees shared.
In 2016, Craig was approved for a $35,000 planning grant for improving the Craig County Public Library. “The grant is for pre-planning only,” Linda Calderon, Library Trustee President, explained. “This may be a feasibility study, a pre-architectural review or other plans as determined by DHCD and the management team.” It was noted that the money will go to consultants or companies that can perform the tasks and the hopes are to have this completed within the next year.
People representing numerous County and Regional organizations participated in the visioning session as a ‘first step’ in defining the community needs through the individual input of its concerned citizens. “It was impressive for the number and diversity of people in attendance,” Calderon and Lewter both said. “There were folks from every area of the county and every service the county provides so this helps to assure the committee that the analysis will be a good representation of the county population.”
These included small business owners, students, social services, the cooperative extension service, school officials, emergency services, the historical society, library volunteers, the tourism committee, workforce development, local government and other local nonprofit groups. “There were new residents, transplants and those with deep family roots in Craig County. Everyone who was there obviously cares deeply about the future of our county,” the Library Committee shared.
Clay Goodman, County Administrator, began the meeting by explaining how libraries are essential to individual communities and their economic development. Then committee members explained how they had perceived the library’s growth over the years, along with their hopes for future services to be offered.
Following this insightful discussion was a request to recognize the ‘character’ of the county. “Responses provided for defining our unique community included ‘Rich in Heritage’, ‘Independent, Self-sufficient’, ‘We really care about people’, ‘Homey’, ‘Best kept Secret’, ‘Not as much to offer as in the past’, ‘Trying for a long time’, ‘Economically challenged’ and ‘Active Barter system in Place,’” Marge Lewter explained.
“This meeting was a unique opportunity for stakeholders to speak their stories about their library experiences and to share what other services they would like to see in our community,” Lewter explained.
The review also included a “SWOT analysis” of the county to define its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Recognized strengths or qualities Craig could build on included: clean air and water, being a faith-based community and having a good school system with good health care services.
Identified weaknesses, which were those qualities needing to be addressed, were a limited infrastructure such as lodging, public transportation and emergency services, small tax base and revenue and lack of opportunities for the youth. It was agreed amongst many attendees that there is a lack of opportunities in Craig to keep the youth engaged.
For example, in the opportunity category, youth were highlighted as Craig’s future potential. “We believe that supporting education, safe entertainment, employment and social needs will be a positive investment in our community,” Lewter shared from the committee. “We wish to build opportunities for youth, from toddlers to college students. Our community has a strong sense of place and we want our youth to value and preserve this cultural identity.”
Distinct opportunities, or ideas for external advantages to be developed, consisted of cyber communication, tourism and again, the youth. Threats or external forces to prepare against, included a continued lack of revenue, damage to natural resources on which the County depends upon and limited economic development.
The DHCD will analyze and format all the information gathered at the meeting. They will give their compilation to Clay Goodman who will work with a management team to determine the next steps in the planning process, which committee members are hoping to be within a month or two.
“We who have been working on the committee for over a year are ‘chomping at the bit’ to move forward but the challenge of financial sustainability will take some creative planning and partnership,” Lewter said. “This is a long-term project and could be a bigger project than we initially imagined and it all depends on grants that are available and what elements are finalized for the facility.”
Other elements of the building, which came from the previous meeting of the Library Committee, were that they could include workforce development, a tourism center, as well as partnerships with other local agencies and nonprofits. “The result of Tuesday’s meeting was an articulation of community needs as well as planting the seeds of potential partnerships for a facility which will enhance these needs,” Lewter said.
They are in the process of building a plan for fund raising. “We will let everyone know when this campaign starts,” Lewter said. Craig ‘Friends of the Library’ Phase One has already raised over $30K to purchase the lots next to the library. Meanwhile, the Library Board of Trustees invites everyone to tour the current Library – which is located 303 Main Street – and check out the many services it offers.
“We had asked many of the invitees to bring their ideas with them, however we did not get to hear them all.” Lewter shared. Therefore, everyone is encouraged to put them in writing and submit them for the management team to consider.
“We wish to know your vision for elements in a community center that would have a positive impact on our economy and quality of life,” the library team stressed. Some questions they pose to Craig Citizens are:
* What elements would be useful and enhance your life?
* What grants can be helpful for this project?
* What are your ideas on creating an income stream that would support library staffing for extended hours and the increased overhead of a larger facility?
Craig County Library has a Facebook page and a website, www.craiglibrary.org, which all are asked to visit or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. “This meeting generated a lot of excitement and energy,” Calderon shared. “We hope to be able to bring all of these together and create a new facility that will enhance our community for all ages,” the committee agreed.