The Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville will expand and become a part of the county Administrative Building planned for the 7.63-acre tract the county has purchased just outside the northern boundary of Watkinsville on U.S. 441.
The county made the announcement of the move Tuesday evening following a vote by the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees to approve of the move on July 8.
That Administrative Building also will house the non-judicial government functions currently located in the Courthouse on Main Street in downtown Watkinsville and in the Government Annex on Greensboro Highway on the southeast of Watkinsville.
The county has not yet developed a time line for construction of the Administrative Building or the shift of the current library to that location.
It also has not developed plans for future use of the existing library, which sits between the Watkinsville Post Office and the Oconee County Health Department. The county owns all three of those tracts, as well as the adjoining land on which the Sheriff’s Office and County Jail are located.
Diane Baggett, communications manager for the county, sent out a news release on Tuesday shortly before the 6 p.m. agenda-setting meeting of the Board of Commissioners, announcing the move of the library.
|Library On Experiment Station Road|
The Library Board of Trustees had met at 4 p.m. on July 8 at the Oconee County Library, but I was traveling back from China at that time and missed the meeting.
“Co-locating county offices and the library will provide cost-savings for both the county government and the library,” according to the news release. “The site, located across from Fire Station 1, is easily accessible by residents in all areas of the county.”
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners decided on June 25 to purchase the 7.63 acres owned by Jacobs Properties LLLP of North Augusta, S.C., for $650,000.
The money for the purchase comes from the unspent portions of the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
The property is located at the intersection of SR 15 and U.S. 441.
At that point, U.S. 441 also is known as the Watkinsville Bypass and as Veterans Memorial Parkway.
SR 15 also is known as Macon Highway and is a continuation of North Main Street.
Library Board Chair Robert Wyatt told me in an email message today (Wednesday) that the proposal to move the current library, officially at 1080 Experiment Station Road inside Watkinsville, to the newly acquired property just outside the city limits, was presented to him on June 26.
At the invitation of Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell and Commissioner Chuck Horton, Wyatt said, he and Mark Campbell, vice chair of the Library Board, met with Daniell and Horton to discuss the possibility that a new Oconee County Library could be part of the new county Administrative Building.
This new structure would include 20,000 square feet on the first floor reserved for the library, Wyatt said he and Campbell were told. Parking would be shared, as well as space such as an auditorium and other meeting spaces.
Wyatt said he and Campbell were told that it is possible that additional space for library expansion will be available in the future.
There also are possibilities for green space on the site, perhaps including hiking trails and an outdoor amphitheater, Wyatt said they were told.
“Following extensive discussion, Wyatt wrote, “the Board voted 8 to 2 to proceed with joining the BOC in the new building.”
Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon and Board Member Laura French, an attorney, voted against the motion.
Shearon On Vote
Shearon told me in a telephone conversation this (Wednesday) evening he gave a “fairly impassioned speech” before the Library Board.
Shearon said his comments to me were from someone who operated a business in the city (Ashford Manor) for 22 years rather than as a mayor.
He said he was “extremely disappointed” that the county was moving the administrative building out of the city.
He said “not a whole lot of detail” was provided to the Library Board about the proposal before its vote and “it was unclear exactly what we were voting on.”
“We were getting 20,000 square feet and a shell without an understanding of what that meant,” Shearon added.
Shearon also said the move was “antithetical to the direction the city is moving in” with its investment in walking paths and sidewalks.
The new location will only be reachable by car, Shearon said.
The current state budget includes $1.9 million in state funding for expansion of the Watkinsville Library.
Baggett told me in an email exchange today (Wednesday) that the state money will be put toward the cost of the new library.
The county was required to commit at least $1.1 million to the expansion to receive the state funds.
Wyatt wrote me that the county should have about $1.4 million from the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax earmarked for the library.
That amount, coupled with the $1.9 million from the state, should provided the needed monies to build a 20,000 square foot facility, according to Wyatt. He estimated costs at $165 per square foot.
County tax records list the current library as 17,377 square feet in size.
Quotes In News Release
In the news release, Baggett wrote that expansion of the library on the current site is not possible because of space limitations and because of the need for increased parking.
Baggett included quotes from Oconee County Commission Chair Daniell, Athens Regional Library System Executive Director Valerie Bell, and Oconee County Branch Managing Librarian Cara Karnes in her news release.
“Housing the new Oconee County Library within the new Oconee County Administrative Building improves service levels for the community and makes good financial sense,” Daniell is quoted as saying.
“This plan will save taxpayer dollars, while providing both the county and the library with larger work spaces and room to grow while serving community needs,” Daniell said. “Residents will benefit from being able to pay their vehicle tags and visit the library with one stop.
“Library patrons will also benefit from increased parking for the library’s many popular programs. This dual-purpose building will truly be a center for our community,” Daniell is quoted as saying.
"We are excited about the possibilities and opportunities a new space will hold for our patrons,” Bell is quoted as saying. “The Oconee County Library is deeply engaged in our community, and we look forward to working with the Oconee County government on this project."
"The Oconee County libraries are proud to serve this community, and we are excited for the future," Karnes is quoted as saying in the news release.