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Gainesville library snags $2 million grant
Funds mean branch can move forward with major upgrades
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Rows of fiction books for sale pile up in the meeting room earlier this year at the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System. - photo by Nick Bowman

A $4 million renovation is coming to the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System after Gov. Nathan Deal signed off on $2 million in state funding on Wednesday.

Tucked into the 2019 state budget is an annual library grant from the University System of Georgia that runs up to a maximum of $2 million — and this year, it’s coming to Hall County. The Gainesville branch was passed over by the regents in 2017, but earned the top spot in a list of library projects from around the state.

And that means the long-planned, $4 million upgrade to the system’s busiest branch is going forward this year beginning in the fall. 

“It really depends on a couple of different factors, one of which is if we’re able to move off-site, which we’re really hoping to do,” Lisa MacKinney, director of the library system, told The Times in her office on Thursday.

MacKinney and her staff hope to relocate from the branch and open a temporary office nearby in Gainesville, which would allow the public to still have access to most of the library collection. 

“Nobody wants their child in a hard-hat area,” she said, laughing. “So that would be ideal.”

Arrangements and funding for a new location are still being worked out and will require the approval of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, MacKinney said. If a relocation is approved, the main library branch would be closed for one year to 18 months while the interior is updated.

The downtown branch hasn’t been updated since 2000 and was built in 1970.

Gainesville’s Brewster-Crocker Architects was hired to design the renovation in late summer 2017 but, because it wasn’t clear how much cash the library system had to work with, has been held back by the state budget process. 

“Now the architect will get very serious about drawings,” MacKinney said. “Those will need to go before the library board and the commission and make sure everybody is comfortable with the overall master plan.”

With the endorsement of the Hall County Library Board and the Hall County Board of Commissioners, the system plans to hold public meetings to collect input on the proposed renovations.

Some input has already been collected through focus groups, public meetings and staff recommendations. Some needs are obvious — the branch needs a larger and more secure children’s area. The branch’s summer reading program can have much of the first floor locked down by parents, strollers and young children.

It needs a larger meeting space and private study rooms. 

“Our Spouts Springs library has a great, big room that has good space, and it has community groups that just about fight over it,” MacKinney said. “They are very, very competitive.”

The Gainesville branch’s popular genealogy section needs more space and resources. 

Conventional library resources are in relatively good shape, she said, because of increases in state funding for new library materials but noted that “we do still have some room for growth — especially because we’re going to lay out our computers differently so we’ll get some more floor space there” on the second floor.

Now that state funding is secured, the library and its Friends of the Library fundraisers will chart a path forward to raise additional cash for the project. With bookshelf and room sponsorships, the Spout Springs Library branch raised roughly $100,000 in donations and grants to accompany tax funding for the construction.

Local buy-in for the project helped keep it in the budget during the winter legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly. Half of the renovation is being funded with local cash from city of Gainesville impact fees and special purpose local option sales tax dollars from Hall County, which owns and operates the library.

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