What began as a proposal in 2016 will finally break ground this May in Carrboro, an idea that has been years in the making: The 203 Project.
It began with a parking lot, one that residents have likely passed by multiple times without even giving it a second thought. The Town began exploring the lot at 203 S. Greensboro St. for potential development.
The vision for the space was transformative: it would be the new location for the Orange County Southern Branch Library.
The land's development aimed to bridge the gap between underserved community members and key resources, solving the issues of accessibility that is prevalent in the community.
From this goal, The 203 Project was born. The idea went from public engagement meetings to public hearings to presentation drafts and then making it in Town Council updates. It went through reintroductions, different design iterations and budget updates. A March 1 estimate predicted the project to cost approximately $41.2 million.
After review by the North Carolina Local Government Commission this month, construction will begin in May.
The location will house the Orange County Southern Branch Library, as well as the Carrboro Recreation, Parks and Cultural Resources Department, the Orange County Skills Development Center, WCOM Radio and the Virtual Justice Center.
This once-empty space will be an epicenter for community engagement.
It will be not just a library, but the area’s new hub for arts and culture, "a community oasis that nourishes the mind, body and soul," as detailed in the project’s vision statement.
It is a community center that emphasizes the needs and connectedness of the local community, an approach that is both distinguishing and necessary for Orange County.
A project like this will no doubt bring new life to Orange County, but more importantly, it will democratize resources and technology for those who might have previously lacked access.
This includes education and literary materials for households lacing them, broadband internet access in a county where many non-centrally located citizens lack it and a space to engage with and enrich Carrboro's existing vibrant arts scene.
The project will focus on four guiding service principles: collaboration, technology, efficiency and welcoming to all. From these, we can hope that the new community center will be accessible to all residents, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
The technology principle of this development is important here. The project's vision statement explains how staff will offer access to tech tools, technology expertise and high-speed internet.
This is specifically valuable to Carrboro’s homeless population, or those without abundantly reliable broadband.
The space will also be complete with 100 parking spaces, as well as bike parking. It will be accessible through Chapel Hill Transit's bus routes, the GoTriangle 405 route, a soon-to-be-built sidewalk along S. Greensboro Street and the Libba Cotten Bikeway. The project is also taking into account sustainable design approaches, including solar hot water, mass timber construction and more.
It is crucial that similar projects are implemented in counties across the state, not just where they complement existing arts-focused communities or the needs of college-age residents. Disparities in public resource access are not uncommon for unhoused populations or those left behind by mainstream infrastructure reforms.
Making costly or inaccessible tools within reach for community members in socially conscious and sustainable ways is the least we should be asking from our town governments. Nobody should be left behind – unable to lead productive civic or economic lives – because of accessibility barriers.
Furthermore, community support is essential to projects like these as it will further collaboration and connection, but more importantly, provide opportunities and resources to individuals who have gone far too long without them. Infrastructure like The 203 Project is necessary to enrich the lives of every community member of the community, and its arrival will be a step in the right direction for disadvantaged members of Orange County.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.