With a vast amount of community input already in hand, a consulting firm conducting a library needs assessment for Pinehurst will begin formulating some possible options on the best way forward.
That input has been gathered through two public meetings and four focus groups called “community conversations,” an online survey and a series of personal interviews with various stakeholders.
The level of community input “has been tremendous,” Assistant Village Manager Natalie Hawkins told the Village Council on Tuesday.
“I am very pleased with it,” she said. “The fact that we had 115 people want to be in the community conversations says a lot. We’ve got a healthy response rate to our online survey.”
Hawkins had previously pointed out that the number of residents wanting to be in the focus group was more than double the number of applications received for the Comprehensive Plan Think Tank. She said 51 were chosen to participate in the focus groups.
Once the recommendations are crafted, the public will have more opportunities to offer input, Hawkins stressed.
She added that just before the start of the meeting Tuesday, 334 residents had completed the online survey that was posted at the end of January. The online survey closed Friday.
Hawkins said 110 residents attended two public input meetings Feb. 18 and 19. The village and its consultants also held four “community conversations” ranging in size from 10 to 17 participants. The groups varied in age, family status, library patronage and neighborhood residency. She said participants “clearly expressed their needs and desires for library services.”
“The participants in the community conversations felt it was appropriate for the village as a municipality to play a role and support library services,” she said.
Hawkins said several “key themes” emerged from the community conversations:
■ The library needs to be more than just a book repository. Residents say they want a full-service library for them to gather and interact. Terms used by residents include a “cultural center” and a “resource center.”
■ More gathering space is needed that includes quiet spaces for reading and study, small groups such as book clubs, and active program spaces for children, teens and adults.
■ Residents want to see extended operating hours in the evenings on weekdays and extended hours on Saturday afternoons.
■ Support was expressed for separating the Tufts Archives from library operations to provide more space for the library.
Hawkins said a “vast majority” of participants indicated they want a library located in the heart of the village (in or around the Village Center) instead of having to drive to other libraries in neighboring towns. Village staff plan to prepare transcripts of the community conversations and will also summarize input obtained during the public meetings and online survey for the council and for the public.
In addition, Hawkins said that over the last few days, village staff and the consultants have talked about a library that would remain feasible 20 years from now. The consultants will “identify and evaluate alternatives” such as collaborating with other government-operated libraries locally, expanding existing library facilities, combining library services with village parks and recreation offerings, relocating current library services to an existing facility in the Village Center and constructing a new library.
She said the consultants will prepare projected costs, potential operating costs and other important considerations for each alternative.
Hawkins said those alternatives, along with the estimated costs and other considerations, will be presented to the Village Council and the public in advance of conducting a second survey of residents in April to indicate their preferences for the alternative recommendations.
Hawkins said surveys will be sent to randomly selected homes that reflect the demographics of the village and have representation from all of the residential neighborhoods.
The goal is to receive at least 400 completed surveys.
In addition, Hawkins said all Pinehurst residents will be able to provide feedback on the alternative solutions through the online Engage Pinehurst and other means regardless of whether they receive the second survey.
“I think that it is important that anyone who has an opinion on this is allowed to share that,” Hawkins said. “We want to make that clear.”
Hawkins said that overall, the village staff and the consultants “are very pleased with the level of public involvement and interest in the library needs assessment, with a great turnout for the public input meetings, a healthy number of responses to the online survey, and very frank and open dialogue among diverse groups of residents.”
Mayor John Strickland said residents can also continue to share their opinions and comments with council members and staff through calls, emails and speaking at meetings.
“Let’s keep informing the public,” he said of those opportunities to offer input.
Strickland said the input so far indicates the main thing residents want is books, “which speaks to the real core of library services in Pinehurst. It is a reading library.”
“Clearly that is the primary reason people go and the primary demand,” Hawkins said.
Council member Jane Hogeman said she was pleased to hear that both capital and ongoing operational costs will be included with the possible recommendations on the second survey for residents to consider. She asked if the village could also include costs of other capital projects, such as a new fire station, and comprehensive plan priorities to help residents in weighing what is more important “so the people see how this fits into the bigger picture.”
“I think that is fair to everybody so they get a chance to say, ‘well, I really like this … but maybe stormwater is more important to me,” she said.
Council member Kevin Drum said his “biggest concern” is that it appears people are reaching conclusions about possible options “with an unstructured input process.”
“I’m not comfortable with conclusions yet,” he said. “You could accidentally do a self-fulfilling prophecy if you are not careful. I am really concerned about the lack of structure in the focus group to get the input. I think there is some good there. I am not trying to throw out the baby with the bath water. I’d really like to build that structure on facts. … I’m just trying to have a fair, unbiased process.”
Drum said he is glad there will be a second survey for residents to weigh in on possible options. Council member Lydia Boesch agreed.
“That to me will be the biggest indicator of what people want,” she said.
Boesch said she also likes Hogeman’s idea of informing residents of the other various capital needs and expenses the village is facing.
“It lets people see all of the needs and you don’t see this in a vacuum,” she said of the library. “Would you rather be paying for roads or would you rather be paying for a library?”
Hawkins assured the council that the second survey will be “carefully crafted” to take into account all of those concerns.