The $50.4 million project Columbus voters approved 15 years ago to build a new main library has moved another step toward official completion.
Despite being open for 9½ years, the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road still hasn't had all of its project money spent. Disputes between governmental entities and even a lawsuit that reached the Georgia Supreme Court have been part of the delay.
Thursday, however, the Muscogee County Library Board unanimously approved how to spend the $279,328 left in the project. The recommendation came from the board's facilities committee and was based on discussions library director Alan Harkness had with the staff:
$68,000 for electronic security gates.
$30,000 for an additional HVAC unit in circulation/entrance area.
$19,000 for two monument signs similar to the existing one to clarify parking on the Citizens Way side of the property.
$18,000 for lettering "Columbus Public Library" on the front of the building.
$18,000 for a Scan Pro 3000 microfilm reader in the genealogy department.
$10,000 for ADA enhancements to the children's garden entrance.
$7,000 for new technology in the teen department.
$4,000 for booth furniture in the teen department.
$2,500 for additional microfilm cabinet in the genealogy department.
$102,828 -- or whatever remains after the aforementioned items are completed -- for a 10 percent contingency on those items, plus additional books and other circulating materials for patrons.
The most recent delay in the library expenditures came from waiting for the completion of the adjacent City Services Center, which opened in June 2013, said library project manager Newt Aaron.
"We were unable to finish the greenspace work, the landscaping behind the library, until they finished the city's building," he said.
The only step left before the final library project money can be spent is for the Muscogee County School Board to approve the wish list as part of the consent agenda during its June 16 meeting.
The 102,000-square-foot library is a joint project between the Columbus Consolidated Government and the school board, which owns and operates the county's public libraries. In a 1999 referendum, voters approved a 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to "build and equip" a new main library. Two years later, the school board created the semi-autonomous library board, which has been negotiating with city officials to determine the final amount remaining in the project.
"It's been an evolution, not a revolution," library board chairwoman Meridith Jarrell said in a phone interview after Thursday's meeting. "It's just taken a while, but it's been on our radar, and we just didn't want to let it die."
The delay also included a lawsuit a group of citizens filed in 2007. The plaintiffs wanted to force the city government to spend the $6.1 million that then was remaining in the library project to build a park on the property. The plaintiffs claimed a park was promised as part of the project during the 1999 SPLOST campaign.
The lawsuit went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court before the justices sent it back to Muscogee Superior Court, where the plaintiffs sought mediation. The lawsuit was dropped in 2010, when the school board and city government agreed on a plan that divided the land, determined its use and reserved greenspace, which some still dismissively call "landscaping."
The 52-acre midtown property was the site of Columbus Square Mall, the state's first enclosed shopping center when it was built in 1965. Now, it is home to the Columbus Public Library, the Muscogee County Public Education Center, the City Services Center, the Columbus Aquatics Center and a parking garage. The school district also plans to build a system-wide arts academy there.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.