The O’Kelly Memorial Library could be in a new, larger building in a different spot three years from now.
In a 5-1 vote last Thursday during a lengthy called meeting, the Loganville City Council voted in favor of the Azalea Regional Library System’s application for a $3 million state grant to build a new library downtown on city-owned property.
City leaders also pledged $1.5 million toward the library build. The money is coming from American Rescue Plan Act funds, not city tax revenue, according to City Councilwoman Anne Huntsinger.
A site for the new library has not yet been determined.
City Councilwoman Melanie Long voted against the measure.
The current library will soon have parking spaces and an entrance taken away once the Georgia Department of Transportation begins its Hwy. 20 road improvement project that includes installing a median, city manager Danny Roberts said.
“It will be a right in, a right out,” Mayor Skip Baliles added.
The existing building also underwent a series of significant repairs, Roberts said.
Huntsinger and Roberts addressed the fact that repairs to the current library’s roof were not made in a timely manner, causing further damage. They allege there had been a breakdown in communication 18 months ago when they first got word of the leak, but that situation has since been remedied with a ticket system to ensure repair requests are swiftly followed up.
The library is operated by AZRLS, but the city maintains the building and provides for water, power and gas, Roberts explained.
Long peppered Huntsinger, Roberts and Nate Rall, the director for facilities and planning with the Georgia Public Library Service, with questions regarding funding and project timelines.
Long commented that with rising inflation and the country’s economic future uncertain, this might not be the best time to commit money for a new library.
“If they (the library board) don’t raise the money they’re not going to break ground,” Huntsinger replied. She added that land the city would specify for the project would remain with the city whether a new library is built or not.
Long also voiced concerns over possible construction delays and asked if the city would face penalties should the project fail.
Rall assured Long there would not be any financial penalties if the library is awarded a grant but doesn’t build a new building.
The GPLS director said he has been involved in 109 new library construction projects across Georgia and only one project failed. He said the grant money for that project was returned to the state and later redistributed to other library projects.
City officials maintain the library system is not eligible for grant money to renovate the existing building, because it will be in the path of the GDOT project and therefore would not meet state renovation grant fund criteria.
The council had voted to pause discussion on the grant application for one year in June 2021. At that time, council members decided to form a committee consisting of city and county officials, library system representatives and community stakeholders to explore a proposal to build a new library in a different location.
AZRLS director Stacy Brown approached the City Council in April 2021 requesting support to build a larger library in a location that allows for more green space and is better secured from heavy road traffic.
The O’Kelly Memorial Library currently sits on a total of 2.7 acres at 363 Conyers Road. A .4-acre parcel between the library and Hwy. 78 would revert to the original property owner. The building was last appraised for $1.45 million.
A new library could cost $7,743,950 for a 15,000-square foot facility, per a feasibility study.
Walton County has agreed to set money from impact fees aside for the potential project, according to Huntsinger. An amount has not yet been determined, though Walton County Commission Chairman David Thompson told the city’s finance committee members that $500,000-$700,000 has been given to other libraries. The grant will be awarded in April 2023. AZRLS should know the grant amount by next July.
Upon receipt of the grant, 5% of funds must be spent on the proposed project by Dec. 31, 2023. This small percentage could easily be spent on architectural plans, Huntsinger said.
Should AZRLS get the grant, the library system would have five years to build a new library in Loganville.
However, most library builds take no more than three years to complete, Rall said.
Several citizens spoke up about the council’s vote to support a new library after the meeting was adjourned.
“A library in a community is a vital asset,” one regular library patron and volunteer said. “Young families look for those things.”
“Shame on every one of you for approving this,” another woman said. “The majority said no. Not everyone wants this right now.”