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Local groups raise money for outdoor chess area in downtown

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A mock up of a chess game outside of Sheppard Memorial Library is presented during the State of the District meeting at the Martinsborough on March 6, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ready to be a pawn star? Rook no further than the local library.

A Greenville City Councilman has launched an effort to encourage more residents to check out the library, create a sense of community and play chess.

District 4 City Councilman Rick Smiley is raising funds to build a giant chess set on the grounds of Sheppard Memorial Library, which he hopes will bring more community together around an already important area of the city. 

Currently, Smiley said his initiative is partnered with the library, the Friends of Sheppard Library, the Pitt County Arts Council, and Uptown Greenville. They have raised about $3,000 and are hoping to raise between $5,000-$10,000 total. He said those interested in donating are encouraged to contact any of the participating groups. 

The set will be built on the Evans Street side of the library, on a plot of land surrounding two large oak trees. Smiley said in addition to the large chess board that will be constructed on the lot, organizers plan to place chess tables around the area.

The amount of funding received will determine how many tables they are able to place, Smiley said. If enough is collected,  it may be possible to buy a second enlarged chess set that could be put in the nearby grass. 

Greg Needham, director of libraries for the city, said the hope is to create a space where people will come to relax and be a visible part of the community. He said the idea fits perfectly with the overall goal of the library.

“Chess is a learning game, it needs a beautiful environment, right out front of the original library structure — it will almost be like a mini chess park, which is really fitting for a public library which is all about lifelong learning and community,” Needham said.

Smiley said his hope is to create a special place in the community. He has spoken to the local chess club in town about doing demonstrations and even lessons. 

The pieces of the board will be stored in outdoor lockers that will be constructed as part of the project. Library staff will check out access to the lockers for people who want to play with the larger pieces. On weekends, Smiley said he hopes local groups will sponsor days where they will supervise the set.

Needham said the library may obtain some normal chess sets for use on the tables. 

“One of the things this does is it makes chess visible for the community, because people arent always walking around thinking 'Oh I should play chess today' and more people should be exposed to chess it's a lot of fun, a learning game, and checkers is the same way,” he said.

The exact dimensions of the project have yet to be determined. Smiley said a lot of planning still has to be done, contingent on how much funding they are able to raise. The first priority, he said, is maintaining the aesthetic allure of the library and area they have selected for the project. 

Fundraising for the project will likely continue until late April, and Smiley said organizers hope to have construction underway by early summer, with completion scheduled for sometime in July. 

Contact Seth Gulledge at sguledge@reflector.com and 252-329-9579.

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