The long and winding road toward a bigger, better Richmond Hill Library may finally be getting somewhere.
So much so that Statesboro Regional Library Director Jennifer Durham told Bryan County Commissioners Jan. 18 the project is as close now to fruition as it’s ever been, calling it, “truly the most exciting point we’ve been at.”
In a Jan. 21 email to the News, Durham explained why she’s upbeat the estimated $4.2 million project is nearing its time, and why it went from a 2019 plan to build a new library at the Towne Center to renovating the current library on Ford Avenue and adding a second library down the road.
For starters, there’s the price tag. The project was initially estimated to cost about $3.7 million, and a decade ago the county committed to chipping in $1.7 million in Special Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST. The remaining $2 million was to be covered by state funding, which has left the county in limbo for a decade.
But the cost of building buildings has gone up recently.
“With rising costs, the original budget cannot build the library we have planned,” Durham said. “The Library Board and Bryan County have economized in every way. We will remain on the current property, but the current library will be reconfigured and expanded.”
Here, there’s discussion of doing things in phases if that becomes necessary, with the county’s $1.7 million in SPLOST available for a first phase.
Still, library officials at the Jan. 18 commission meeting seemed optimistic they may be able to do the entire project at one time. That would save money by locking in costs, they said.
“A phased project is not ideal,” Durham said in her email. “But the Commissioners wanted our community to benefit from the SPLOST funds and begin the improvements. To stay within budget, we have a phased approach with design alternates.” Here’s where state lawmakers come into play, again. With state legislators in session, officials like Durham say it’s time for local residents to write state Sen. Blake Tillery, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and ask the state to commit $3 million in funding for the project. There’s money there, they say. “This is a critical time for the public to speak out in support of the Richmond Hill Library project,” Durham said, noting that completing the entire project at one time “this is the most economical and expedient solution to fund the project and protect it from rising costs.”
If that funding were to come through and are “assured, we would begin the bidding process and plan a ground-breaking in July 2022.”
At one point, city and county officials agreed to build a new library in Richmond Hill’s Town Centre across Highway 144 from the entrance to Ford Field and River Club, which at the time was called Ford Plantation. That was in 2019. Since then, the plan shifted back to adding on and redesigning the current library, which at only 8,034 square feet has been considered too small for years. Durham, who has been director of Statesboro Regional Public Libraries since 2012, said the expanded library “is designed to meet the community’s requests for library services: a larger children’s department, meeting spaces for groups of all sizes, convenient access to after-hours returns, and open, welcoming spaces for enjoying the Library’s collections and technology.”
What’s more, Durham said the new, improved library at its current location can evolve as South Bryan continues to grow.
There’s discussion of building a second library in the future as the area continues to grow. In the meantime, “Bryan County has persevered through years of unfunded requests, and with the Commissioner’s support, the Richmond Hill Library Project has made more progress in one year than in the previous 10,” Durham said, adding that she hopes “the Senate Appropriations Committee will acknowledge our commitment to this project and recommend funding in the state budget.”
At the Jan. 18 meeting, Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger said the project “has been a long time coming.”
“It seems like every year we come to the money part … I hope we can push it through this year,” Infinger said.
To reach Sen. Tillery by email, write email@example.com. Or call his capitol office at 404-6565038. His mailing address in Atlanta is 234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA, 30334