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Bryson City Library receives $3.2 million in state budget, pushing expansion project forward

The Marianna Black Library was established in 1929 and opened in its current location in 1970.
Lilly Knoepp
The Marianna Black Library was established in 1929 and opened in its current location in 1970.

After more than a decade of discussions about expansion at the Marianna Black Library in Swain County, the state budget will provide $3.2 million for the project.

Established in 1929, the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City is part of the Fontana Regional Library system which encompasses six libraries in three counties Swain, Macon and Jackson. The current building opened in 1970.

Swain County Librarian Jeff Delfield said few significant improvements to the library have happened since it opened.

“It hasn’t expanded. Have there have been some changes? Of course, we didn't even have computers then so we have computers now. So some of the technology has come a long way,” Delfield said.

In the last 15 years, the Fontana Regional Library systems built new libraries in Franklin and Sylva and renovated the libraries in Cashiers and Highlands, according to the Marianna Black Library Campaign Committee case study. The committee hopes that now it’s Bryson City’s library turn for expansion.

Delfield has worked on this expansion project since it started around 2010. He is excited that the additional 6,900 feet in the building will be able to provide more meeting spaces for the community.

“Cooperative workspaces again can be used by anything from tutoring after school to telemedicine to job interviews NC works will be able to use these rooms,” Delfield said.

The new layout creates a career and tech lab, co-working spaces, a teen area and larger children’s area as well as a local history reference room.

A library is more than books, Delfield explained, and these spaces are crucial in a county where internet access can be hard to come by.

Fifty-seven percent of Swain County’s 14,000 population doesn’t have adequate broadband access, according to the 2023 Southwestern Commission’s county profile.

The expansion will provide some much-needed privacy for job interviews, telehealth and more that regularly happens at the library, Delfield explained. It will include more privacy for NC Works, the state employment office, which operates regularly at the library.

Swain County Librarian Jeff Delfield and Marianna Black Library Board Chair Ellen Snodgrass pose together inside the current library in front of a shelf full of books.
Lilly Knoepp
Swain County Librarian Jeff Delfield and Marianna Black Library Board Chair Ellen Snodgrass pose together inside the current library.

The process for expansion started with discussions in 2000, according to the Smoky Mountain News. Delfield remembered when the first feasibility study took place in 2009. Then the library lead community listening sessions.

In 2014, Don and Toni Davidson purchased and donated nine acres on Fontana Road for a new library. However, there were issues with the cost of the project, even with donated property.

The Davidson’s donation also came with a deadline. If the county didn’t use the land by 2021, then the land reverted back to the original owners.

Ultimately, that’s what happened.

“We were ecstatic really until it was apparent that it wasn't going to happen, you know, and that was several years in. We really did think that we were going to have a library there on Fontana Drive when funding did not happen. It was unfortunate. And even more unfortunate. Yes, the land did have to go back to the donors,” Delfield explained.

The expanded library will add 6,900 sq feet to the space for storage, activities and meeting spaces.
Lilly Knoepp
The expanded library will add 6,900 sq feet to the space for storage, activities and meeting spaces.

Delfield and Marianna Black Library Board Chair Ellen Snodgrass continued to work on options for the expansion. They agreed that major donations motivated the community and then credit Swain County Commissioners’ $500,000 allocation in the 2022-2023 county budget to push the expansion forward.

“There were a couple of starts and stops for other ideas. But this ultimately, keeping the library in downtown and expanding and renovating the current location,” said Delfield. “We're just as ecstatic about this project to be perfectly honest. The square footage will be just a little bit less than what we were going to have with a brand-new library.”

In January, the pair says they presented the project to NC State Senator Kevin Corbin and State Representative Mike Clampitt to ask for funding.

“They were impressed, I guess, and they said that they would push for this project in the state budget,” Delfield said.

Corbin and Clampitt were successful in bringing $3.2 million to the county they represent. The funds will be provided in two installments of $1.6 million for the next two fiscal years.

The new state budget funding brings the expansion project’s total fund balance to $4.9 million out of the $5.3 million needed for the current project budget, according to Snodgrass and Delfield.

The project committee raised $1.2 million from private donations and grants.

“At some point we will be opening up a general campaign to the general public,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass said she expects construction to start in 2024.

The Fontana Regional Library System is currently renegotiating its regional agreement with the three county managers. The agreement won’t impact this project, Snodgrass said.

“It really has no bearing on this project. We don’t know, at this point, how that agreement is going to come together. Obviously, when it does, we will certainly abide by whatever agreement is made. It’s between the three counties and also with Fontana Regional but this project stands on its own,” she said.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.