Sunday, January 24, 2021

Oconee County Library Board Meeting To Discuss Competing Proposals For New Library

***Follows Presentations By County And City***

The Oconee County Library Board of Trustees is holding a called meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Monday at the Bogart Library to discuss and likely make a decision on a new location for the library in Watkinsville.

The called meeting follows the regular meeting of the Board on Jan. 11 at which it heard presentations on two different proposals for sites of the Oconee County Library now at 1080 Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.

The Library Board voted in July of 2019 to move the Oconee County Library from that location to the planned new county administrative building at the intersection of U.S. 441 and SR 15 (North Main Street).

The County has gone forward based on that vote to develop rough architectural plans for a building that would include both a library and county administrative offices now in the Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville and in the Government Annex on Greensboro Highway on the south side of Watkinsville.

Board of Trustees Chair Mark Campbell told the Library Board at the Jan. 11 meeting that since the 2019 vote “the City of Watkinsville and developer Duke Gibbs have come forward with an alternate location.”

Gibbs wants to incorporate a new library into his Wire Park mixed-use development on Barnett Shoals Road just at the city limit.

Watkinsville Council Members Christine Tucker and Brian Brodrick joined Gibbs in making a pitch to the Library Board at that meeting for Wire Park.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell restated the county’s plans for the library at that meeting.

Earlier Vote

The Library Board voted on July 8 of 2019 to move the library from its current location to a 7.6-acre tract just outside the northern boundary of Watkinsville at the intersection of SR 15 (North Main Street) and U.S. 441.

Campbell 1/11/2021

The state is providing $1.9 million in funding for expansion of the Oconee County Library, and the county was required to commit at least $1.1 million to the project to receive the state funds.

The county owns the land on which the current library sits, but it has maintained that the site does not provide adequate space for expansion.

The state grant and the matching funds would provide partial funding for the administrative building that also would house the library.

The vote at the meeting on July 8 was 8 to 2, with then Watkinville Mayor Dave Shearon and Board Member Laura French voting against the proposal.

Mayor Bob Smith has replaced Shearon on the Library Board with Jon Kirkpatrick, but French remains a member. Smith did not attend the meeting on Jan. 11.

Robert Wyatt was Board Chair at that time, and current Board Chair Campbell was vice chair.

Campbell, a partner in Carter Engineering, off Mars Hill Road in the west of the county, also provides professional engineering services to Watkinsville and participates in Watkinsville Mayor and Council meetings in that capacity. (The original version of this post mistakenly located Carter Engineering. I apologize for the error.)

Campbell said at the Jan. 11 meeting that a committee of the Board had been investing the two proposals and recommended that presentations be made to the full Board of both.

County’s Pitch

Commission Chair Daniell told the Library Board at the Jan. 11 meeting, held in the Civic Center, that the county would contribute $1.2 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenues, for a total of $3.1 million “to spend for a new library building.”

The county currently contributes $460,486 for operation of the library and another $100,000 in maintenance and operation expenses, including utilities.

Regardless of the decision of the Board of Trustees, Daniell said, the county will continue the cash contribution and to pay the utility costs. He said the county would like to split the remaining maintenance and operation expenses with the city if the library is moved to Wire Park.

Daniell said the county had tried to find a site inside the city for the administrative and library building and attempted to collaborate with the city and with the Board of Education. The county even considered the Wire Park site, he said.

The site chosen, Daniell said, provides room for expansion of the library in the future, ample green space, and needed parking.

Only a small percentage of the patrons of the current library come from Watkinsville, Daniell said, and the new location is more accessible for the majority of patrons than Wire Park, he continued.

The Wire Park location would make the traffic problems of Watkinsville worse by directing more traffic through the center of the city, he said.

Gibbs’ Pitch

Gibbs of Gibbs Capital began his presentation by talking about his plans for Wire Park.

Gibbs With Map (Library In Black)

Gibbs said he has lived in the county for 13 years and that his goal is “creating a space for the community to come together.”

Gibbs said construction is underway on many parts of the project and that demand for residential and commercial space has been strong. He said several restaurants already have committed.

Gibbs is proposing to donate an existing building in the park to the county for the library. The county would need to “clad” that building in brick, but the county would own the building and the land on which it sits, he said.

Water and sewer are in place, he said, and the electrical system has been upgraded, he added.

Gibbs said he would dedicate 15 parking spaces to the library, but library patrons would have access to about 500 parking spaces in total.

Costs of maintaining the parking would be born by the condo association, Gibbs said, and the library would not have to pay those fees.

“Wire Park is already something unique,” Gibbs said. “The library at Wire Park would just be something that would be truly amazing.”

Watkinsville’s Pitch

Watkinsville Council Members Tucker and Brodrick followed Gibbs, and Tucker said the community was fortunate in that it has “two great proposals” to consider.

Tucker, 1/11/2021

Tucker acknowledged that she has heard concerns about access to a library in Wire Park but said the difficulty of getting there would be offset by increased traffic the library would receive from people attracted to Wire Park.

Brodrick said the project honors the county’s history and would create a “connecting point” for the community.

He stressed that all of Council is supporting the proposal, including the two Council members leaving the body and the two new members joining.

Brodrick said the city was prepared to make a $60,000 capital investment in the library and increase its annual contribution to pick up half of the money the county said it would like to receive from the city for maintenance costs.

“There’s not going to be hard feelings with what you decide,” Brodrick told the library Board. “We’d be thrilled to have the library there,” he added.


The video below is of the Jan. 11 meeting of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees.

I did not attend, but Penny Mills did and recorded the video.

Daniell began his presentation at 17:51 in the video.

Gibbs began his presentation at 33:31 in the video.

Tucker began speaking at 52:23 in the video.

Brodrick began speaking at 1:00:52.

Mills is planning to record the video of the meeting on Monday, but the Library Board also plans to livestream the session. The link is HERE.  

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