Is city doing its homework on book project?

Story by Chris Graham

The idea that the second book in the series on the history of Waynesboro from local author George Hawke could end up costing city taxpayers upwards of $20,000 has been gnawing at me from the time that I heard that things might be headed in this direction in the spring.

But I’m getting ahead of myself there.

“We’re having trouble getting this book into print,” said Earl Meese, a River City resident who has been involved in the six-year-long effort to get Hawke’s 700-page History of Waynesboro Volume II published, in a conversation with me in April.

The book – a followup to Hawke’s History of Waynesboro to 1900, published in 1997 – covers the period of the city’s history running from 1900 to 1976. The story of how it has failed to find its way from the word processor to hardback is worth a volume itself – from what I’ve been able to piece together.

Hawke and the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit that assisted Hawke with the publication of his first book nine years ago, thought they had secured a commitment from a private citizen locally to fund the Volume II project. That deal fell through earlier this year, said Dave Segars, a Waynesboro resident who has headed up the foundation’s publishing committee, whose sole task has been to get Hawke’s book into print.

“We regrouped and decided the best thing to do would be to have our own fund drive. We talked about trying to get assistance from the city – but we felt there would be no harm in going ahead and soliciting donations for the book,” Segars told The Augusta Free Press.

The fund drive has been a success to date – Segars said the committee had received $5,000 in donations as of the end of last week, and hopes to have significantly more in the account by the July 31 deadline that it has set for donors who want to have their names included on an acknowledgements page in the book.

As much a success as the fund drive has been, the committee is still far short of the $25,000 budget that it has set for publishing the book.

This, for those keeping score at home, is where the part about city taxpayers possibly being on the hook for $20,000 comes into play.

“As far as I’m concerned, George Hawke’s book is part of the history of Waynesboro – and Waynesboro has a heritage that has been kept under a bushel basket for years and years,” mayor Tom Reynolds told the AFP last week.

Reynolds, vice mayor Nancy Dowdy and city-council member Lorie Smith all indicated at the council’s July 10 meeting that they would support a city contribution to the Heritage Foundation to make up for whatever budgetary shortfall exists at the end of the month after the foundation has completed its fund drive.

“Waynesboro has always been, or was always, that progressive town – where Staunton was the community that held on to its history and its heritage,” Reynolds said. “And we’re at a point now where more and more people in Waynesboro are saying, Hey, wait a minute, Waynesboro is an important place, and we do have a history, and we do have heritage that we need to preserve, and before we lose any more of what we’ve got, let’s stop and evaluate this thing.

“This is just another of the things that we can do to help preserve that history and heritage,” Reynolds said.

The question that I have regarding the commitment of city funds doesn’t have to do with the merits of having the city participate in the publication of Hawke’s book. I think the argument can easily be made that the commitment of city funds to this project can be lumped in the same category as the move a few years back to provide economic-development incentives to land Wal-Mart on the West End, and more recently to do the same to facilitate the redevelopment of the Outlet Village.

My concern is that the city has not asked the Heritage Foundation to justify its numbers – which apparently is a valid concern on my part.

“Really, I don’t need that,” Reynolds said in response to my question on the topic. “They give me a number, and either I think it’s OK, and I trust that they’ve got a good number, or I don’t. It’s not up to me to say that I think this is a high number. It’s not our job to get into the details of organizational work. It’s our job to look at what their proposal is – and say, OK, I think that’s too much, or yeah, I think that’s realistic, and I want to support you.

“It’s not up to city council to tell an organization who to get bids from, how to run their organization, that sort of thing – it’s to look at what they propose, and either agree with them or don’t. Either we want to help them, or we don’t want to help them – based on what it is that they bring forward. Obviously, we can offer suggestions to them – but it’s not our job to do their business,” Reynolds said.

Smith did do some digging – and found out that the city had provided funding to the Heritage Foundation in 1997 to pay for the publication of Hawke’s first History of Waynesboro book.

“For me, personally, I at first on the face of things was a little worried, to be quite honest, about setting a precedent in terms of funding these types of projects – authors coming forward doing historical pieces. I was worried about the precedent that that set. But the more that I thought about it, and the more that I looked into that first publication, and understanding the Heritage Foundation’s part in this, I really began to shift my mindset – because I really feel that the council needs to take a strong leadership role in partnering in this type of project. I believe that preserving Waynesboro’s history – I believe that the council has a role in that,” Smith told the AFP.

Smith did say that she would be interested to learn more about how the Heritage Foundation arrived at its $25,000 budget figure.

“I’ll be interested to see the business plan in terms of the overall venture of getting the book published – because I do think we are proposing at this point to use public funds to offset whatever fund raising does not occur. To me, that’s going to be a piece of accountability that I’m going to need to see in terms of making me feel that I’m making the right decision,” Smith said.

Heritage Foundation president Shirley Bridgeforth told the AFP that the foundation solicited bids on the History of Waynesboro Volume II project from several publishing companies in the Greater Augusta County area and surrounding areas – and received back three proposals, the lowest of which set the bottom-line cost of work on the project at $23,500.

That comes to $31.33 a book for the 750 books that the foundation hopes to publish and make available to the public.

I asked both Bridgeforth and Segars if they had considered cost-cutting measures such as reducing the number of pages in the book or dropping the print run from 750 to 500 or even a lower number.

“We did try to reduce the font to save money – so the font won’t be 12-point, but will be 10-point, which will make a difference in the page count,” Segars said, answering the first issue.

“We were told by the publishers that 500 would be too low and 1,000 might be too high, so we went with 750,” Bridgeforth said in response to the second.

It is perhaps worth noting there that neither Bridgeforth nor Segars could provide a figure for how many of the first History of Waynesboro book sold. Segars said the print run for the first volume was 1,000, and that “we still have quite a few of them that haven’t sold.”

In the course of researching this article, AFP co-publisher Crystal Graham – who also heads up the AFP’s book-publishing division – solicited a bid for 750 copies of a 700-page softcover book from a Northeast-based company that has worked with the AFP on past publishing projects.

The comparison is not apple-for-apple in line with what the Heritage Foundation is proposing for History of Waynesboro Volume II – which is currently envisioned as a hardcover book that will include a pullout map and other special features.

I include mention of the bid proposal that we got back just to put it on the record for the sake of comparison – the cost to publish and ship a softcover version of the book came to $11,883, or $15.84 a book.

An additional expense of $1,000 to $2,000 could be assumed for work involving the book’s pagination – bringing the cost per book for a softcover, no-frills version of History of Waynesboro Volume II closer to the $17 to $18 price range.

In my interview with Segars, I offered these details as the preface to a question as to whether or not the Heritage Foundation might want to solicit more bids in the interest of getting a more favorable price. Segars answered by inviting the AFP to provide a bid to the foundation – and formally presented the AFP with a request for proposal to that end.

The AFP, for what might be obvious reasons, declined the opportunity to take part in the bidding.

Segars did say later that the foundation is “not committed to any of the bids that we have received to this point.”

“We would be interested in seeing if there was something that we could do to get the price down. We requested several bids – and we would be interested in looking at this some more to see if there is more that we can do,” Segars said.

Smith, from her perch on city council, is interested in the same thing.

“That’s something that the council will discuss,” Smith said. “Hopefully we’ll have some questions like that that present themselves when they come back with their final number after their fund-raising efforts.

“I want to talk with Shirley, and I want to talk with members of the foundation, in terms more of understanding the types of options that they have before them in getting the book published,” Smith said.

“That all said, I support the project. How we get there, how we finalize, is what we’re going to be looking at over the next month or so,” Smith said.

(Originally published 07-17-06)

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