With $1.25 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money allocated this year toward a new library in South Bryan, officials say plans to replace the Richmond Hill Library with one more than twice its size could be closer to fruition now than ever before.
No timetable or location has been set for a new structure and there’s still no state funding, but the county applied in 2012 for a $3.6 million state grant. And Bryan County Library Board members Jake Mullins and Pete Fox said the county’s earmarking of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money for a new library should convince state lawmakers Bryan County is serious about building it.
“We’ve done our part,” Fox said as he spoke at Tuesday’s Bryan County commissioners meeting in Richmond Hill. “The next step is to get the state to commit to this.”
There are other steps as well, however. Fox said there are preliminary projects the county can begin working on now that funding is in place through SPLOST.
“There are things we need to do,” Fox said. “We need to start on building design, we need to get legal work done, we need to get estimates of manpower costs, (operations and maintenance) costs …. We need to start getting (requests for proposals) out, get those bids back. With $1.25 million, we have the funding money there; perhaps we can draw on it and get started with your support.”
Fox asked for help from staff and County Administrator Ben Taylor to get the ball rolling, and while no vote was taken, county commissioners seem ready to back a new facility, particularly because the Richmond Hill Library is small for the population it serves.
Fox cited numbers that show the library, currently 8,000 square feet, will need to be about 16,800 square feet by 2020 under current state guidelines and population estimates — more than 13,450 residents by 2020 in incorporated Richmond Hill alone, and more than 40,000 in the county.
By 2030, South Bryan would require a library in excess of 20,400 square feet under those same state guidelines, with a city population of nearly 15,000 and a county population in excess of 45,000, according to census and state estimates.
But any library will serve more than just Richmond Hill residents, and Fox noted growth along Highway 144 toward Belfast Keller Road is one reason the library board is looking in that direction for its new library.
“As the population grows, the projected growth corridor is down Highway 144 out to Belfast Keller,” he told commissioners. “That’s where the new middle school is. The new elementary school will soon be here. Developments are going up out in that area, so we’re looking for opportunities in that area. A library would be a community magnet and a jewel to developers. It has a lot to offer.”
That prompted District 3 Commissioner Steve Myers to ask whether the new location would leave residents in Richmond Hill proper out in the cold.
“Are you going to disenfranchise 18,000 people who live in Richmond Hill and will have to drive 7 or 8 miles to come out this way?” he asked.
Myers was corrected on Richmond Hill’s population by Commissioners Chairman Jimmy Burnsed, who interjected, “It’s 12,000.”
Fox said there’s no intent to disenfranchise anyone.
“No decisions have been made (on location) and there’s no intent,” he said. “That’s where the schools are, that’s where the population is moving, that’s where developments seem to be going, that’s where we’re looking.”
If built, the new facility will be the only one in South Bryan. The county’s had offers on the current library building, Burnsed said, and told Fox he would talk again to Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, whose district includes part of South Bryan.
“Ron Stephens is very much aware of this … I don’t know what else we need to do to push that. He is aware we’ve done our part with the sales tax. But the state really needs to step up,” Burnsed said. “I think it’s in everybody’s mind that we need to do something because of the number of people using that library, it’s certainly outstripped its usefulness.”
The Richmond Hill Library is part of Georgia’s PINES library system, and cardholders are able to order books and other items from around the state — including, apparently, a 3-D printer. Libraries are now more than just book repositories, offering free Internet access to members as well as room for meetings and classes.
Before Fox spoke, Mullins gave commissioners a copy of an essay by Richmond Hill Middle School sixth-grader Ryley Mayberry. The essay was written as part of Georgia Cities Week and won first place in Richmond Hill’s essay contest on what writers would do if they were mayor.
Mayberry said she would expand revenue and add a zoo, a water park “and expand our small public library,” the essay says.
“Having a larger library would give more people the opportunity to use computers, increase the book selection and give the people of the community a quiet place to read and study,” Mayberry wrote. “This would directly benefit the people of our city.”
Mullins made it a point to make sure commissioners got the sixth-grader’s point.
“As you can see, even young people are familiar with the library and realize the importance of a functioning library that has space to accommodate all these things that the library does,” he said.