Former state Rep. Chuck Williams told a crowd of more than 50 people who turned out on Saturday for the groundbreaking of the 5,900-square-foot addition to the Bogart Library that getting state funding for library construction today is difficult because of a misconception.
“When it comes to libraries, there’s a challenge at the state to make sure that everyone needs to understand that libraries--public libraries like this--are not a relic,” Williams said.
The turnout and enthusiasm for the expansion project were testimony to the importance of the Bogart Library to the community, Williams said.
Valerie Bell, Athens Regional Library System director, called Williams “the moving force to ensure that this library expansion got off the ground and the project on the (funding) list.”
Williams said Bell was giving him “much more credit that I deserve” and said former Rep. Regina Quick and Sen. Bill Cowsert were crucial in getting the $1.8 million in state funding for the project.
The group squeezed into the existing library space included former Rep. Quick as well as Deborah Gonzalez, who currently represents Bogart and two other Oconee County precincts in the Georgia House of Representatives.
|State Forestry Commission Director Chuck Williams|
Quick is now Superior Court Judge for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties, and Williams is now director of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
State Librarian Julie Walker was there, as were Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell and Commissioners Chuck Horton, Mark Saxon and Mark Thomas.
Oconee County is contributing $500,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue to the expansion project, which will bring total square footage at the library to 9,600 square feet from its current 3,700 square foot imprint.
Also in attendance at the ceremony on Saturday were city officials from Bogart, members of the Oconee County Board of Education, and a representative of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees.
Happy Day For Bogart
Athens Regional Library System Director Bell launched the program at 10 a.m. Saturday at the library, 200 Burson Avenue. The Bogart Library, as well as the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville, are part of the Athens Regional Library System.
Walker, officially State Librarian for the Georgia Public Library Service, also credited Williams with playing a leadership role in getting the state funding.
The Georgia Public Library Service is a Unit of the University System of Georgia, and the state’s funding of the Bogart expansion was included by the General Assembly in the University System’s budget for 2017.
“It is one of the happiest days of any community when we are breaking ground for a really wonderful new public library,” Walker said. “It means that you all value education and reading and literacy and economic development and access to technology for everyone in this community of all ages.”
Rep. Gonzalez said continued support for libraries is one of her priorities.
“The library is not about the books,” Rep. Gonzalez said.”It is about the community.”
Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell said, on behalf of himself and his fellow commissioners, that “this is a really exciting time for us. We like it when we can come to events like this.”
“A lot of stuff we deal with creates a lot of controversy,” Daniell said, “but dealing with libraries, usually we can get 100 percent support.”
Penny Mills, a member of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees, thanked the county for being willing to use SPLOST funds for the library expansion.
“This library is going to be a jewel for this community,” Mills said.
Following the comments in the library, the speakers moved outside to shovel a little sand around to mark the official groundbreaking.
Actual construction is expected to start in early March, Bell said, and continue for six to eight months.
Garland Construction Company, 1020 Garland Dr, Off U.S. 78 at Pete Dickens Road, is the construction manager.
The single-story building will have a brick exterior and be an addition to the existing library.
The expanded library will include a 1,550 square-foot community room that will seat 110 people and will serve as flexible space for education programs and conferences, according to a fact sheet provided at the ceremony.
The expanded library will have dedicated computers, space for teens and children, and study rooms.
It also will include a 408 square-foot creation studio for artistic activities.
A series of glass windows will allow people outside to see into the library, and a nook inside the library will provide for reading and looking at the outside environment.
The library sits within the Bogart Sports Complex, which is a unit of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department.
Williams, in his comments, gave what he acknowledged was an abbreviated version of the political process that led to the state funding of the Bogart Library expansion.
In 2015, the budget conference committee of the Georgia House and Senate stripped the funding for the Bogart Library renovation and expansion from the final state budget, even though the project had been highly ranked by the state Board of Regents and approved by both the House and the Senate.
In 2016, the conference committee inserted the $1.8 million for the Bogart Library in the budget even though neither the House nor the Senate had included the monies in the budgets they had passed.
Oconee County's Sen. Cowsert, also Senate majority leader, was a member of the budget conference committee both years and acquiesced to the cut in 2015 and became the project’s advocate in 2016.
The conference committee action in 2015 was taken at the direction of Terry England, R-Auburn, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, according to Sen. Cowsert.
Then Rep. Quick, who represented Bogart and two other Oconee County precincts in the Georgia House, had been a frequent and outspoken critic of House leadership in the runup to the vote to increase motor fuel and hotel taxes to fund state transportation projects.
I shot video of the comments of the speakers at the ceremony on Saturday, but I was standing far back in the room, did not have space for a tripod, and was shooting into background that included a window.
The video is flawed, but it is possible to hear the comments of the speakers.
Walker’s comments began at 3:50 in the video.
Williams made his remarks at 7:08 in the video.
Gonzalez started speaking at 11:45 in the video.
Daniells and Mills followed Gonzalez.
The video ends with a clip of the officials with hard hats and shovels standing at a pile of sand.