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Library shelves downtown expansion plans until 2018
$2 million state grant needed to renovate countys busiest branch
Mark Pettitt
Mark Pettitt

Plans to expand Hall County’s downtown Gainesville library branch are being shelved for another year.

There’s $1.5 million in the bank to renovate the branch of the Hall County Library System, but plans for the building call for another $500,000 in local money and a $2 million construction grant from the state, according to system Director Lisa MacKinney.

Gainesville’s branch won’t see any activity until after the state’s next legislative session at the earliest, she said on Friday.

Built in 1970, the branch has been renovated twice but not expanded. Now the system’s staff and its board of directors want to add between 3,000 and 7,000 square feet to the building.

The wide range of that expansion depends on whether the library lands its grant from the state, but there will be changes to the children’s area of the Gainesville branch regardless of the funding for the project.

“We know our children’s area is significantly undersized, and it’s also on the main level right at the front door,” said Mark Pettitt, chairman of the library system’s board of trustees. “People are coming in and out constantly, and we want to get the kids out of that area into a more contained and controlled environment.”

During the library’s storytimes at the branch, children and parents pile into the children’s section.

“Don’t even think about trying to bring your stroller in here,” MacKinney said, standing in the children’s section on Friday.

In addition to the children’s area, the Gainesville branch will see updates to its meeting room — a long, narrow room that’s “perhaps the smallest meeting room that we have in our entire library system,” Pettitt said.

Library meeting rooms are a vital resource for clubs and nonprofit groups that don’t have a natural gathering point, and the groups and events that use the room in Gainesville — the system’s busiest branch — have had to sometimes cram people into the space.

MacKinney said library leadership also hopes to add more security and display space for the branch’s genealogy section — an irreplaceable resource for Gainesville and North Georgia residents hoping to discover their family history.

“It’s a tourism draw,” she said of the genealogy collection.

Julie Wingate, head of the Northeast Georgia Historical and Genealogical Society, said people travel from all over the country to research their families in the Gainesville branch.

“I’ve talked with people there that have come from all over the Southeast,” Wingate said. “… It’s amazing to me how far people will drive to find these records.”

The project includes many other changes to the branch, which will be designed once an architect has been selected.

The library system and Hall County government, the owner of the buildings, are grading bids from architects aiming to design the updated branch. MacKinney said she’s hoping to have an architect to recommend to the Hall County Board of Commissioners in July.

Renovations are expected to begin about this time in 2018, but the scope of those renovations will depend on decisions being made in the coming months.

State library grants are prioritized by the board of regents of Georgia’s university system and funded by the Georgia legislature. The top four grants selected by the regents have historically been funded by the Georgia General Assembly.

The Gainesville library’s request was No. 4 this year but wasn’t funded.

“Every now and then a project gets leapfrogged — we got leapfrogged this year,” Pettitt said.

When the regents’ list comes out in late summer or fall, local librarians hope to see their $2 million request at the top — which would put the renovations on track for spring of 2018 when Gov. Nathan Deal signs the state’s 2019 fiscal year budget.

The local money involved in the project comes from the county’s special purpose local option sales tax program, according to MacKinney. The library system already has the other $500,000 in local cash, which was given to the system by the city of Gainesville through its impact fee program — a one-time charge to property developers to help expand infrastructure growth with the private sector.

MacKinney said the system is hoping to conserve the impact funds — holding off on spending it on books, other materials or equipment — for the expansion.

And as the city has chipped in for the project, Pettitt said he’s hoping the $4 million updates to the Gainesville branch help the 47-year-old library complement the city’s coming development.

“The city has a great plan for downtown, and we want to just mesh with the direction that the downtown is headed with all of the new development,” he said. “We’re excited about that, and we want to fit in.”

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