Regional Library undergoing improvements

Matthew Allen

A 20,000-square-foot addition and full-scale technological renovation of the Athens Regional Library on Baxter Street are set to begin in May, after almost two-year’s delay.

The project includes renovating the entire 63,000-square-foot building through the purchasing of newer technologies to enhance the visitor’s experience, expanding the Heritage room – where interested patrons may search into Georgia history and their own genealogies, adding on to the snug children’s space, and developing auditorium space in the hopes of hosting conferences.

Library renovation is one of 33 different projects chosen to receive funding from the 2005 SPLOST. SPLOST is a one-cent sales tax used to fund local improvement projects.

About 20 of these projects have been completed or are in process, including: various roadway improvements, Classic Center expansion, the extension of public water lines to northern areas of the county, several park expansions, and construction of the downtown parking deck.

The library project was postponed after the Library Board of Directors submitted a state grant application in November of 2007 to further fund the project. An architectural firm from Athens-Clarke County created a design proposal for the grant, and the state awarded $2 million almost two years later.

But the project is in a position to move forward, with sufficient funds now available – nearly $11 million, in total. The mayor and commission are scheduled to approve the start of construction in their April meeting Donald Martin, the SPLOST program administrator for Athens-Clarke County said.

Built in 1992, funded in part by 1987 SPLOST money, only minor updates have been to the library since.
“This is the first expansion and the last scheduled,” said Kathryn Ames, the library director, in a phone interview.
Many technological developments have taken since 1992 as far as hardware goes, and the library’s role as a place of learning has progressed along with technological advances.

“We want to have more technology classes that teach concepts like web conferencing and web imaging,” said Ames. “There are people in our society without email or PowerPoint.”

Ames wants to meet this technological need; as of now, software updates only go as far the hardware permits. In addition to more traditional personal computer updates, the library also hopes to acquire Smart board technology to aid in library learning environments.

Children’s specialist Kim James’s demeanor brightened as she described her desire to use new technology, like Smart boards, to more effectively help children learn. Her smile continued to grow as she described her intent to throw out old foes, like a glitchy, outdated projector. It was apparent that she had been thinking about the prospective improvements.

“Book reporting videos are the popular thing to do, right now,” she said. “There are national competitions, and we want to help our kids get involved.”

With children’s services growing over the past few years, the thought of expanding square footage also seemed appealing to James.

“We’re jam-packed most of the time,” she said. “We want to make our programs better, and updating technology and getting new space will help out.”

Currently, library employees, like James, read stories aloud, make arts and crafts, and take part in sing-a-longs with children and their families in a room of no more than four-hundred square feet. The expansion will allow more roaming space for the children and include tile floors and a sink so that James won’t need to be so crafty while directing arts and crafts.

Another part of the library is also experiencing a lack of space. One of the library’s most unique areas, its Heritage room, is undergoing needed expansion.

The Heritage room is one of the best sources, if not the most extensive, on Georgia history in the county.
The collection is made up of donations – mostly from individuals, and patrons must register in order to gain access to its value.

“You could say it’s a liability concern,” Marsha Carlan, a Heritage room worker said of the registration process. “We have some pretty valuable items here.”

Right now, boxes are stacked upon boxes of documents, loosely organized, in the cluttered corners of the room – too small for its accumulating contents. The Heritage room is located on the second floor of the building on the North end. Expansion of the room will move the building closer to Baxter Street.

The library’s most valued section will be one of the earlier areas to undergo renovation, but all of the improvements will take over a year to complete. For now, patrons sift through the scattered boxes of the Heritage room, attempting to find their past in the mess.

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