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Gainesville library may get $4.2 million renovation
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Royce Beggs, left, leaves the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System close to closing on Wednesday. The library system is hoping to win a $2 million grant to renovate the library, including moving the children’s section, pictured in the background, away from the main entrance of the building. - photo by Nick Bowman

On the edge of turning 50, Gainesville’s downtown library may get a $4.2 million face-lift.

The Hall County Library System is working toward a renovation that could mean additional space for the Gainesville branch, but would definitely mean serious upgrades to its youth sections, genealogy section and meeting rooms.

The library system has $2.2 million on hand for the work with special local option sales tax dollars and impact fees charged by the county and city of Gainesville. System Director Lisa MacKinney is hoping 2018 is the year a $2 million grant from the state finally comes through from the Georgia General Assembly.

The grant is recommended to lawmakers by the board of regents of the University System of Georgia, but funding is appropriated by the state legislature and signed by the governor. In the 2017 session, Hall County’s request was ranked fourth by regents and wasn’t funded, but the request is going into the 2018 session at the top of the list for library grants.

Lawmakers will convene the next legislative session in Atlanta in January.

Of the system’s five branches, the downtown location is the busiest. It’s also one of the oldest, and its last renovation was in 2000, MacKinney said during a public information meeting at the Gainesville branch on Wednesday.

But it’s not just the carpet and the paint — big jobs in themselves — that need to be replaced. MacKinney and the staff at the library have a list of needed improvements:

  • Larger meeting room

  • Additional study/conference rooms

  • Secure children’s entry

  • Larger youth and teen areas

  • Local history area improvements

  • Building repairs/maintenance

  • Staff space

The children’s section of the library sits right at the front door of the branch, meaning all of the foot traffic in and out of the building passes near or through the youth section.

Its position in the building also means children have slipped away from parents checking out books and made it through the front door before being stopped.

Interior designer Cortney Orme, who is working with Brewster-Crocker Architects on the redesign, said on Wednesday that the youth sections could be moved to the second floor of the building to both create more room and make them more secure.

Judy Chasey is president of Friends of the Hall County Library, a nonprofit fundraising group for the library system. The group raises $5,000 to $7,000 annually to pay for the system’s summer reading program for kids and to help pay for capital projects.

“Our community deserves a good library, and the library will work to give to the community the library that they need,” Chasey said, noting that renovations “have been a long time coming.”

Meanwhile, MacKinney said the library’s genealogy collection is becoming ever more popular as people in the area turn to county records to fill out family trees. The Gainesville branch now has a dedicated local history librarian and a host of records that are irreplaceable.

“Genealogy is an enormously popular, growing hobby nationally and people are really engaged in that,” MacKinney said. “And with youth services, we’re the primary provider for early literacy in Hall County in terms of where kids go to get exposure to reading books, how parents learn to read to their children and find those resources. We’re the No. 1 game in town for that.”

But one of the biggest open questions about the renovations, provided the state approves the $2 million grant, will be where the branch will find space to grow. The downtown lot around the library is tight. Without adding a level, the library would have to expand into an adjoining lot or relocate its parking to make room for an expansion.

“It’s just so early in the process, and it’s such a challenge on site,” said architect Jeff Crocker, noting the biggest open question is the state grant. “... Everything is on the table, from looking at (whether) the current entrance is in the right place, are there ways to expand the square footage (in the) front, back, side, top? There are a lot of variables going into play.”

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