‘Not... another Tisdale’: Library, city officials commit to relocating Welty Library after confirming it would be demolished
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As the city of Jackson shores up plans to tear down the Eudora Welty Library, officials are working to make sure that the once popular branch does indeed reopen elsewhere.
“It is our top priority right now to ensure that the flagship headquarters branch of the library system does not become another Tisdale,” said Jackson/Hinds Library System Chair Peyton Smith. “That is a major priority of ours currently, and something that we’re still working on.”
Smith was referring to the former Charles Tisdale Library.
That branch was located on East Northside Drive and was a popular after-school destination for nearby schoolchildren.
But despite promises from the city that a new location for the library would be found, no new branch has been opened since Tisdale was shuttered more than six years ago.
In fact, the branch, which was named after a prominent Black newspaper publisher in the capital city, was unceremoniously torn down last year after having significantly deteriorated years after it was abandoned in 2019.
As for Welty, it was shuttered earlier this summer in the wake of the rising temperatures. The air conditioner had not worked there for months (The branch was also closed last summer due to lack of air conditioning.), and the facility was no longer habitable for patrons or employees.
“At this point, it has a lot of issues,” said Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne. “AC issues, water damage, structural damage. So, the idea is to relocate it and house it somewhere else.”
In April, the city council authorized the city’s Department of Planning and Development to apply for a $5 million federal grant on behalf of Jackson/Hinds to help purchase and renovate a new building for Welty.
Officials say Jackson could be on tap to receive as much as $3.7 million of the amount requested, but it still must be approved by Congress.
As for the building itself, plans are to tear it down to make way for a green space in front of the Two Mississippi Museums.
“Ultimately, that is the plan. That’s what the Department of Archives and History would really like. And in reality, when you think about it, that space, which is located right there, just in front of the two museums, it would be a really beautiful green space,” Payne said. “When people come out of the museum, they will have a space to lounge, to relax, and just to enjoy downtown Jackson.”
Payne said no date has been set for when a demolition would occur, and no funding has been set aside by the city to approve it. It’s also unclear whether the city would tear down the building itself or turn Welty over to MDAH to demolish.
Ward One Council President Ashby Foote says he has to know more before he can support the plan.
“Where does the library go? Where does that space go? Does it get turned over to the state? Who’s going to pay for the demolishing of the library?” he asked. “There’s a lot of parts to this that beg for more details and more closure.”
Foote said it’s important to involve all of the potential stakeholders in the process, including the council and JHLS.
“I think we all realize that the Eudora Welty Library has been compromised for four or five years, and not really a successful library in serving the citizens because of the compromised status they’ve had,” he said. “We do need to move on from this, but it’s not clear to me what the course of action is beyond just demolishing the building.”
Welty’s building was constructed in the 1940s and originally housed a Sears department store. The library was located there in the 1980s.
In recent years, the building has experienced numerous structural issues, many of which were brought about by a botched roof repair job more than a decade ago.
Those problems culminated in 2017 when the State Fire Marshal temporarily shut down the building due to multiple code violations. The branch was partially reopened later, but the second floor was never again reopened to the general public.
[READ: ‘It’s raining inside’: Eudora Welty Library continues to crumble, years after Fire Marshal temporarily closed it]
Since Welty closed this summer, JHLS Executive Director Floyd Council said several paintings, including a number of Walter Anderson prints, and a commissioned painting of Eudora Welty herself, have been moved to protect them from the heat.
Other libraries across the system are also experiencing issues. The Richard Wright Library has been closed since 2020. At the time, library officials said it was because of plumbing issues. The Medgar Evers Library is partially closed also due to a lack of air conditioning. Patrons can still come to the branch’s community room, but any books must be retrieved from the shelves by library staffers. The Willie Morris Library, meanwhile, was closed earlier this year due to plumbing-related flooding. It has been reopened for months but with limited bathroom services.
Smith says the city has identified funding to help repair the HVAC at Medgar Evers. The repairs should be complete by next summer.
However, the city did not set aside additional funds in this year’s budget to help cover additional repairs.
All library buildings in the city of Jackson are owned by the city and must be maintained by the city. JHLS cannot expend its funds to make significant building repairs, per an opinion from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.
“We had a lot of things that came up at the last minute. The big increase in insurance premiums for property insurance, that kind of overwhelmed the council and we weren’t able to allocate that additional money,” Foote said. “We still feel obligated to repair those buildings that need to be upgraded.”
“We do need to fix the libraries that the library [system] has been beating the drum about,” he said. “It’s very important the citizens have those services available.”
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