Editor’s Note: In view of the current search for as larger home for the
In a dramatic reversal, Tuesday night, the Apalachicola City Commission voted unanimously to abandon plans to restore historic Coombs house for use as a library.
Commissioner Rose McCoy set the tone for the decision, citing the perilous financial condition the city is in. She feared that the city would be placing an impossible burden on itself, especially considering the current economic and political instability.
“I was real excited,” she said sardonically, “when we were able to sit down and pay all the city’s bills up through November.”
The abrupt decision immediately followed a report from Clark Holmes, a member of the library board and of the Historic Apalachicola Foundation. Holmes stated that three grants were involved in completing the Coombs Library project.
The first coming from the Department of Historic Resources for the beginning work of restoration. That $240,000 grant had already been approved by DHR, but still faced legislative and administrative approval.
The second major grant, in the neighborhood of $200,000, would come from the state library commission for the purpose of converting the structure for use as a library. That money, Holmes said, had yet to be approved and probably no action would be taken on the grant application until April.
A $40,000 matching grant from the E. I. DuPont Foundation, he said, is available for use on an “as needed basis.”
Holmes urged the commission to continue with the project, if for no other reason than to see whether the grants would be approved. “It would be a mistake,” he said, “to withdraw the grant applications now.”
He said such an action would hurt the city’s credibility in applying for future grants. If the city didn’t wish to continue with the library project, Holmes said, it would be better to wait until after the money had been approved, then simply refuse the grants.
Holmes also spoke in favor of the project from the viewpoint of a patron of the library. He noted the present city library was funded at only 25 percent of the state minimum. The Coombs Library, he stated, would be a base for fighting illiteracy in the region.
Commissioner Jack Frye, who has opposed the project from the beginning, made a motion to end the city’s involvement in the Coombs House. Like McCoy, he was concerned that the city would face huge expenditures for maintaining the library that it can ill afford.
Some members of the gallery concurred with Frye, saying the Coombs House would be better in the private sector. The city would then be deriving an income from taxes on the structure, instead of having a liability for upkeep and insurance. Although the project has been plodding along for nearly two years, nobody has undertaken to determine exactly what the annual maintenance and insurance costs would be.
Before the vote was taken, Commissioner Jimmy Elliot cautioned the commission to consider all factors involved. If the Coombs House went to the private sector, he wondered, what guarantee would the city have that the house would be faithfully restored? He also expressed a concern that some fringe group, such as Satanists, might move in.