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Hall may compromise on Clermont library
Commissioner says hell consider tech lab on Nopone, small branch in Clermont
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It appears there may be a compromise in the works for the contentious North Hall library.

On Tuesday, Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell said he would consider putting a technology lab in the Nopone Road park and community center and building a small library in Clermont.

Earlier this month, Bell and commissioners-elect Scott Gibbs and Craig Lutz announced they plan to vote in January to move the North Hall library to Clermont when they hold the majority on the five-member Board of Commissioners. The vote will reverse the current commission's decision to move ahead with the library construction at the same Nopone Road site as the North Hall park and
community center.

Because of their planned vote, there will be an empty space where the library was planned in the community center building.

"We're still going to leave the shell there where the library was going to be. We're talking with the North Hall parks group and the people who have worked so hard on that project to talk about what's going to be in that shell," Bell said. "We think there are some high-tech alternatives to a library that can serve as an educational resource for the students that participate in park and rec activities and can serve the population in that area. It won't be a full-scale library, but there's some options there as far as having a technology lab."

Gibbs, who likes the idea of a technology lab, said he thinks a theater facility could also be a good fit for that space.

"I would like to see something that might be of benefit to North Hall and East Hall high schools," Gibbs said. "They are the two oldest high schools in the county and so they don't have a lot of the modern conveniences that some of the newer high schools have had added to them."

He said a theater could be used for meeting space as well as by community theater groups.

"I would like it to have a large array of functions," Gibbs said.

Commissioner Billy Powell, who backed the combined library and community center at Nopone Road, said he would be willing to discuss the possibility of a technology lab in Clermont, not the other way around.

"The compromise with the technology center in Clermont would, I think, serve a lot of the uses of why people go to the Clermont library. A lot of the usage hours are spent on the computers," Powell said. "I still think that the Nopone Road location is a better location that would serve more people."

Chairman Tom Oliver said he hopes the board will vote do what is in the best interest of the county.

"We have to look at the greatest good for the greatest number of people," Oliver said. "Regardless of which way we go, we've got to be financially responsible. We've got to make sure it's a good project today and it's a good project 10 to 20 years from now."

Because of the economy, construction prices have come in below budget. Bell said savings will allow the county to start from scratch on a library in Clermont. He said with 2,000 people in a five-mile radius, it will be a modest facility.

"We're confident that the Clermont library will be adequate for Clermont," Bell said. "It's not going to be built to serve White County, it's not going to be built to serve anything other than the residents in that area. So It's going to be smaller and less expensive than the normal facilities that we've built."

Bell, along with Lutz and Gibbs, are critical of the Cool Springs Park, planned on donated land in Northwest Hall.

"This park, although it is a notable transfer of property to the county from Mr. (Wendell) Starke, is not a priority from the voters and not a priority of what we have to consider with the limited resources we have with SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax). We're going to suspend that project and use the funds that were allocated toward Cool Springs to continue our work and make sure that Clermont has an adequate library for Clermont and that Nopone Road has the resources to serve the citizens of that area," Bell said.

The county has estimated the Cool Springs park will cost between $4 million and $5 million to develop, paid for by sales tax dollars from SPLOST V and impact fees. Along with ball fields and a playground, plans for the park include skateboarding facilities and a retention pond.

Both SPLOST V and VI had funds set aside for a park in North Hall. In 2009, the commission voted to create a park on the donated Cool Springs land using leftover funds from SPLOST V. Shortly afterward, commissioners approved the use of SPLOST VI funds for the North Hall park on land purchased at Nopone Road.

Bell said he would like to come back to the plans for the Cool Springs Park when money is available.

Lutz and Gibbs said they are against building the Cool Springs project altogether.

"Cool springs is not a North Hall or South Hall park. It's a West Hall park," Lutz said. "As far as I'm concerned, I don't know why that park should be built."

But Powell said the point is moot because money for the Cool Springs Park was collected during SPLOST V, which ended in 2009.

"Evidently, they are not doing their homework because the money for that park is already in. That money is here and done," Powell said. "The money is here the land is free. All we have to do is do what the commission has already voted to do."