By David Shivers
It may have seemed to some like a day that would never arrive, but at long last the ceremonial first earth was turned June 13 to officially signal the start of construction on the new Lee County Library headquarters and conference center.
Lee County commission chair Ed Duffy told those gathered for brief ceremonies at the site just off U.S. Highway 82 that the new facility represents “a $5.2 million investment that will serve for generations to come.” He thanked library system director Claire Leavy and the county library board “for their tireless effort to bring this to fruition.”
The total square footage of the new facility is slated to be 24,812 square feet and will comprise the central headquarters for the Lee library system (15,282 square feet), the conference center (7,625 square feet), and a site for a retail coffee shop (1,906 square feet) that is expected to be leased to a private vendor.
Construction is scheduled to begin later this month, with completion expected in eight months to a year, depending on weather conditions.
Funding for the project includes $3.2 million in SPLOST money, approved by voters in a referendum. The balance of $2 million was allocated by the state through the efforts of local legislators, especially State Rep. Ed Rynders, who was lauded by local officials for his role in the process.
Rynders, according to Library Board chair Eddie Hinman, “helped get the funds through.”
For his part, Rep. Rynders noted that “government has an obligation at the local, state, and federal levels to vet every project” for economic efficiency, because “it’s the taxpayers’ money.” Economic and education dollars often end up being used in Atlanta to maintain its role as an economic engine for the southeastern U.S., according to Rynders. As for the state money that has come to the Lee County for the library/conference center, he added, “It’s been through the mill, it’s been vetted, and at the end of the day the process worked.”
Hinman thanked the Oakland Development partners for the donation of the land for the facility, the county, the taxpayers who voted to approve the SPLOST, and the state “for helping to make this achievable.”
Initial plans for the library/conference center hit a major bump fiscally and politically when the bids based on the architects’ original plans came in well in excess of the amount planned to be spent. The entire project was sent back to drawing board to bring down the estimated costs and then re-bid.
Among the features planned for the library are on-line and wireless access; a self-checkout system; printing, copying, and faxing abilities; a small meeting room with a capacity of 12; two study rooms; designated children’s and teen areas; magazines and newspaper access; books, audiobooks, large-print books, and eBooks; platform-specific software and DVDs; public-use computers; an open floor plan with comfortable seating; and a knowledgeable, well-trained staff.
A total of 50,000 library items are expected to be available to patrons.
Hinman said, “This project has been in the works for over four years. Claire (Leavy) has worked her fingers to the bone” on the design and other aspects. Hinman added, “This is a case of wanting to keep the quality of life in Lee County where it is.”
After the ceremonies, commission chair Duffy proclaimed it “a pleasure being here for the ground-breaking for beginning of construction. Lee County citizens support education, and the libraries are a cornerstone of continuing education for children and adults. This library will serve present and future generations to come. “
He added, “The conference center is very important for Lee County, because at the present time we have no facility in the county that can support a hundred people. This conference center will seat 350, and we will have a location where can hold our Lee County Chamber of Commerce banquets,” as well as similar events.
Hinman also noted that even as physical construction on the new library-system central headquarters is getting underway, plans are commencing to renovate the Smithville library branch. That branch is located in a town-owned building, so the library board will be working with Smithville City Council to complete that project.
Lee County library and county officials dig in at the groundbreaking for the new library and conference center in the Oakland development off Highway 82. PHOTO BY DAVID SHIVERS.