Updated: Manassas to remain in Prince William library system, inks $1.25M deal

After years of discussion on whether it would or it wouldn’t, it appears Manassas will stay with the Prince William County Library System.

As far back as 2016, the city officials had talked about leaving the public library system, of which it had been a member of since 1976, in favor of building its own library.

Initially, city officials had discussed building a new library in the city’s downtown.

In recent months, however, those conversations changed, as city officials voiced plans to open a new library at the Wellington Station shopping center at the intersection of Grant Avenue and Wellington Road.

The city had was in talks with private firm Library Systems and Services back in October 2019 to operate the facility. However, it appears those talks fell apart.

At the Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting today, Deputy County Executive Michelle Casciato announced the Manassas has agreed, in principle, to sign a $1.25 million, 10-year agreement with the public library system, substantially extending its current contract with the system.

Under the deal, the Prince William County Public Library System will provide staffing for the Wellington Station library, which will become the system’s 12th library branch.

The city will rent a new storefront cover the cost of the new library location, at about $250,000. That cost will come out of the cost of the overall deal, said Casciato.

The details on the timeline of the opening of the new library, and its layout are still being worked out, said Manassas City spokeswoman Patty Prince. She had no comment on why the city decided not to ink a deal with Library Systems and Services, citing ongoing negations with the firm.

Currently, all branches of the Prince William County Public Library System are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In October 2019, Manassas City officials said it’s new library would cost about $600,000 to open, and would require a $1.2 million operating budget.

Neighboring Manassas Park, however, will be leaving the Prince William County Public Library System where, it too, has been a member since the late 1970s. That city went forward with a $3.1 million deal to open a temporary library to be located at the General’s Ridge Golf Course, which was shuttered last year, taken over by the city, made a passive park for walking, and renamed Blooms Park.

After Manassas Park’s new library opens later this year, the city has plans to relocate the library to a newly built structure closer to the city hall by 2023. Manassas Park chose Library Systems and Services to manage its library. City officials said leaving the Prince William County system as a cost-saving measure.

Both Manassas and Manassas Park had until July 1 to decide whether or not it was going to remain in the county library system, per each city’s respective agreement with the library system.

Push for the county to absorb the independent library system

While the Prince William County Public Library System will keep the company of Manassas, officials on Tuesday asked the Board of County Supervisors to change the way the organization is managed.

Currently, library system Deborah Wright is provided direction and oversight from the Prince William Library Board of Trustees, a 10-member group with appointment representatives from each of the eight members of the Prince Willam Board of County Supervisors, and one representative each from Manassas and Manassas Park.

Casciato urged the Board of County Supervisors to change the mission Trustees Board, turning it to more of an advisory board instead of a governing body.

The change would turn the library into a department of the county government, similar to when the Board of County Supervisors in 2012 dissolved the county’s old independent park authority that used to manage county parks and created the Prince William County Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department.

Casciato advocated confirmed to Occoquan District Supervisor Kenny Boddye the move to make library employees county government employees would allow them to join labor unions, the same as other county employees. The move would also allow library employees the same grievance process enjoyed by county government employees, said Casciato.

Prince William County Public Library System Director Deborah Wright, appointed in 2017, said she learned a year ago that her library employees were, in fact, not county employees, and lacked the benefit of a grievance process. She, and the Library Board of Trustees, began the conversation last year when both Manassas and Manassas Park had indicated they intended the leave the library system, Wright told Supervisors.

If the library does become a county department, the Board of County Supervisors would oversee the library operation. Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson urged the Board to table the discussion until a later date, citing the Board may be subject to some unwanted controversies should it decide to takeover over the library system.

“We’re no stranger to the controversy here,” said Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair At-large Ann Wheeler.

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