Columbus library will close for 1 year if expansion, renovation project is approved

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The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries have open two 24-Hour Libraries funded by the 2015 SPLOST - vending machines with more than 300 selections to serve locations in North Columbus. Part II of the SPLOST money with go toward the South Branch renovation
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The Chattahoochee Valley Libraries have open two 24-Hour Libraries funded by the 2015 SPLOST - vending machines with more than 300 selections to serve locations in North Columbus. Part II of the SPLOST money with go toward the South Branch renovation

A Columbus library will close for about a year if the plan for its expansion and renovation is approved.

The $3,779,000 proposed project is envisioned to produce a better and larger South Columbus Public Library to serve its growing usage at 2034 S. Lumpkin Road.

The Muscogee County Library Board has requested the Georgia Legislature approve, during next year’s session, $2 million from the state to help fund the project. The rest of the money would come from $1,179,000 in Chattahoochee Valley Libraries reserves and $600,000 in Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue, CVL director Alan Harkness told the Ledger-Enquirer via email.

Because the Muscogee County School District owns and operates the county’s four public libraries, the request also must be approved by the school board.

The project would expand the South Columbus Public Library from 9,300 square feet to 16,000, Harkness said.

“I think this is a great way for the library to make more of an impact in the southern part of Muscogee County,” he said.

Harkness said he hopes the project will start as soon as possible next fiscal year, which begins July 1. His best guess for when SCPL would temporarily close for a year is in early 2021.

“I would anticipate, with finding a temporary location and moving, construction and such would take 12-14 months until final completion,” he said. “But it is still early.”

Reasons for project

Harkness gave several reasons for the proposed expansion and renovation. The South branch needs:

  • More study rooms.
  • More space for programs.
  • More space for computers.
  • More space for staff.
  • More flexible spaces that can be reconfigured, depending on the purpose at the time.

CVL statistics show the growth in usage at the South branch. From fiscal year 2014 to 2019:

  • Visitors increased from 81,656 to 129,009.
  • Program attendance increased from 7,430 to 15,396.
  • Computer sessions increased from 48,310 to 53,161.

Despite being the smallest of the four public libraries in the county, the South branch had far more computer use in FY 2019 than the Mildred Terry (around 41,000) and North (around 31,000) branches, Harkness said.

“These computer transactions are very staff intensive,” he said. “Many people who need assistance don’t know how to use a computer, how to write a resume, or have never set up an email account.”

South’s wi-fi usage also was higher than the other branches, Harkness said.

“I believe we could add 50-75% more public computers at South and not be able to keep up with the demand,” he said.

The South branch being adjacent to Eddy Middle School and South Columbus Elementary School, Harkness said, “means that a lot of children use this facility. It is a challenge for staff to keep up with that demand, and more space would make it easier to serve more children.”

The building is 27 years old and had a “minor renovation” seven years ago, Harkness said, including some new carpet, paint, shelves and light fixtures. Some new chairs and tables have been added since then, and some computer furniture from CVL’s headquarters, the Columbus Public Library, also was added at the South branch, he said.

“Any time we’ve made any system enhancements, we’ve included South along the way,” he said. “That means updating public computing, self-checks, RFID gates for inventory control, that sort of thing.”

But those enhancements haven’t extended the building’s useful life or its size, Harkness said.

“The systems are old, including HVAC, plumbing and electrical and are all due for a replacement,” he said.

Temporary library

If the South branch temporarily closes, Harkness said, CVL would rent space, such as a vacant store, to serve the patrons in that area.

“Many libraries do this,” he said. “Many try to do additions while they’re occupied, but that causes headaches and delays the completion of the project.”

The funding request is part of the package of projects the Georgia Public Library Service will submit to the state legislature and governor, Harkness said.

“Our local delegation will go to bat for us,” he said.

Asked whether CVL would do the South branch project if the $2 million request for state funding is rejected , Harkness said, “We could, but I’d rather wait. … It makes sense to wait and leverage state dollars with our own local funding, including 2015 ESPLOST and reserves. Waiting allows us to do more and build the kind of branch that the south part of Columbus deserves to have.”

A similar project at another CVL branch was approved for $1.8 million in state funding this year to expand and renovate the library in Cusseta. The Cusseta-Chattahoochee County consolidated government is contributing nearly $140,000, Harkness said.

Roughly 1,400-2,000 square feet will be added to the 4,600-square-foot facility, Harkness said. The final plan isn’t set, he said, but construction is expected to start in early 2020, and the temporary location has been determined: Cusseta’s former city hall.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.