Squatters have taken the old Chester Library

The Midlo folks are harping again. You know the people that live on the other side of the Chesterfield Mountains dwelling beyond the snowy foothills of Hull in the great Genito woods.

I’m not telling tales about all of the fine folks who busily make their way up and down the Powhite each day to gather money in the city to feed their young. I’m speaking of the elders; the wise ones who have put in their time and want to enjoy the fruits of their labor while communing with kindred spirits.

Midlothian seniors have been meeting in a church that serves as a makeshift senior center and have now outgrown it. Now they hearken back to the time when they say Chesterfield offered to build them a new senior center, 10,000 square foot on the site of the former SportsQuest, using part of the $ 4.2 million the county invested there.

Now they want to know where it’s at. Was it a wicked curse that made it disappear from the plan or was it a lack of county interest that caused the project to go up in a cloud of smoke.

But my story brings you back across the treacherous mountain pass to the quaint villages and byways of southeastern Chesterfield. Especially where I live, in an ivy-covered bungalow, on a well-traveled passage.

OK, enough silliness. Bensley has a community center, Ettrick has a community center and in Chester, a promise made long ago, a place for a community/senior/cultural center has not been kept – the old Chester Library. Chester libraries have a history. Going back into the early 1900s, one of the first libraries in Chesterfield was opened by Maude Hurt in a little (still existing) clapboard building on Old Hundred Road. Most remember the more recent location on Harrowgate Road, which was dedicated in 1966. It has a long history of serving the community. Now it only serves a few that have decided to squat in a place they don’t belong.

“I’ve heard that they just like being in that building because it’s away from everyone else,” one police official said. Another county official told me the police detectives have the building and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Both officials were speaking of our old library on Harrowgate Road. A place where the community gathered not only for books but to commune in a way unlike what the new Chester Branch of the Chesterfield County Libraries offers. Some places are just too big to allow community interaction even though the 2002 anchor of the Chester Village Green has attractive architecture.

When the old Chester Library went vacant, then Bermuda District Supervisor, Jack McHale, approached the still wet-behind-the-ears Chester Community Association (CCA) to operate the building as a community/cultural center. At the time the CCA was too new and penniless, unable to take on such a project. Mr. McHale told the group that the county had a temporary project team that could use the building and then we could take another run at it.

A couple of years later, Fran Pitaro, who was the Director of the Department of General Services (DOGS), reminded the group of McHale’s offer. The CCA began to look at how it could make it work. But in the meantime, Mr. Pitaro retired and the cops moved in. CSI now lives in our community space.

Was the temporary project at the old library complete? It seemed pretty empty about four or five years ago, if my memory serves me right. As the CCA was beginning a plan to take the building and work out how it would operate, the CCA Board of Directors found out that the Chesterfield Police Department detective division had moved in – temporarily until renovations at the police department’s main precinct could be completed.

A couple of years ago it was recommended that a community/cultural center in that familiar building could be a legacy project for our Bermuda Supervisor. Apparently the police department has too strong a hold on it. Not wanting to be among the other, non-detective, officers may be below them, after all.

Our detectives do a good job clearing hundreds of felonies each year, but couldn’t they find about 4,000 square feet somewhere else to do it? They used to be housed at the county complex. I think that they’re out of place using a community asset that would benefit citizens more than CSI when there is room for them elsewhere. There sure was before and the county had reduced their overall workforce since the Chesterfield’s finest began occupying a place meant for all us, not just trench-coated crime solvers.

Cut to the chase and let’s solve this crime. It’s time the community and the police department have a reverse interrogation and find out who needs to be where and why they need to be there. The Shepherd’s Center that serves seniors could use some space. Community activities/classes/small performances could use some space and the

Chesterfield Center for the Arts Foundation could use a space until the new performance center is built.  

Gumshoes out - citizens in.

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