At their respective April 5 meetings, the Carrboro Town Council and the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the budget for the 203 Project in Carrboro.
The 203 Project plans to construct a library and cultural center that will host various community programs. The finalized budget for the project is $41.17 million.
The Carrboro Town Council approved its contribution of $18.9 million to the project’s budget in a 5-1 vote on April 5. Previously, the BOCC decided in a 5-2 March 15 vote to move forward with its plan to contribute $22.2 million.
The Town set the project planning in motion in 2016. However, as construction costs increased, it became harder to compose a final plan for the building.
Commissioner Earl McKee noted that the project's total price has tripled or quadrupled due to its growth over the years.
“If it was not for the fact that I consider it a necessary component for education, I would have voted against it myself,” McKee said.
Carrboro Town Council member Sammy Slade was the only dissenting vote at both the April 5 and March 15 meetings. Jean Hamilton and Jamezetta Bedford also voted against the budget plan during the March 15 BOCC meeting, held before the plan was approved in April.
At the April 5 Carrboro Town Council meeting, Slade cited the need to allocate funds for a climate budget as a reason for his dissenting vote.
“Do we have the capacity as a town to both address our climate emergency within the timeframe that the science says we must do and/or pay for this project?” he said.
Carrboro Town Council member Danny Nowell responded to Slade by stating that in order to achieve climate goals, the Town must find sustainable ways to diversify its revenue bases.
He added the Town does not currently have the resources to face the climate crisis.
“When we look at the tools that we have at our hands to increase our resources, one of those is increasing our tax base," Nowell said.
Tamara Sanders, manager at The Clean Machine, a bike store in Carrboro, said while the 203 Project is important, certain aspects of it — like the parking lot — are too expensive.
Sanders said the project is focused on external economic gain rather than prioritizing local consumers and said she would like to see money allocated toward public transportation instead.
She added that she has observed other communities that demonstrate the togetherness that comes from having a strong public transportation system.
“It's hard to see more public investment essentially into what is private privilege," Sanders said.
During the public comment section of the Carrboro Town Council meeting, Carrboro resident Mauricio Solano said he supported the 203 Project.
He is the economic development manager for El Centro Hispano, a Triangle-based nonprofit that advocates for Latinx day laborers. Solano said the programs offered through the project would help local contract workers locate and find work opportunities.
"I believe this project is a great opportunity for day workers," Solano said at the meeting.
UNC sophomore Corey Henderson, who lives in Carrboro, said that the installation of the 203 Project is priceless.
Henderson said as a Black man, he is directly impacted by spaces that encourage community building, education and creative pursuits. These spaces, he said, are less accessible in particular for members of underrepresented communities.
“I think it’s hard to predict the worth of places such as libraries and cultural centers because they make major changes in people's lives that aren't as easily quantifiable as the cost of production,” he said.
What to expect from the project
The 203 Project will serve Orange County residents in a number of ways, with plans to offer services such as tutoring, tax filing assistance, campaign organizing and resume building.
In addition, the new center will host WCOM Radio, the Virtual Justice Center, Orange County Skills Development Center, Carrboro Recreation, Parks and Cultural Resources Department, performance spaces and other extracurricular and entertainment areas.
Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils said he is excited about the project's potential role in supporting literacy, education and cultural opportunities.
"That is especially true for lower-income folks in the community and for youth who will be the focus of some of the programming in the building,” he said.
The project's lot is located at 203 S. Greensboro St., an existing Carrboro municipal parking lot near the town’s center.
According to Seils, placing the lot in the center of Carrboro primarily serves to provide accessibility for urban residents.
“I remained patient, any big civic building project like this takes time to plan and coordinate,” Seils said. “I’m grateful because we had a really great experience in engaging with community members since the beginning in 2016 to come up with what this project should look like.”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article misrepresented whether the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted to move forward with the 203 Project in Carrboro. The article has been updated with more information regarding the 5-2 March 15 vote. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
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