‘Surplus’ SPLOST funds to finance Central Library exterior renovations

This preliminary artist’s rendering details some of the planned renovations that will enhance the exterior appearance of the Dougherty County Central Library branch. (Special illustration)

This preliminary artist’s rendering details some of the planned renovations that will enhance the exterior appearance of the Dougherty County Central Library branch. (Special illustration)

ALBANY — Dougherty County officials and members of the county Library Board were celebrating Wednesday successful negotiations that will allow for improvements on the facade of the downtown Central Library branch, which is undergoing $5 million special tax-funded interior renovations.

By saving some $606,000 in projected costs, much of it through a successful rebid that resulted in lower construction costs, the Library Board has reached an agreement with project architect Hecht Burdeshaw that will allow for exterior improvements on the library branch.

“We are projecting a surplus of more than $600,000 in the SPLOST funding approved for the Central Library renovations, and we wanted to reprioritize that funding to pay for exterior renovations,” Library Board Chairman Walter Kelley said. “We asked our architect if we could do that, and he said he could make it work.

“So not only is it going to be beautiful inside the library, wait until you see the outside.”

The news is doubly good for the library system. Since the county has made a pair of $2 million library-related requests for state funding — for the Central facade and for a new roof and interior improvements on the Northwest branch — the withdrawal of the Central request enhances the county’s chances of getting the money for the more crucial Northwest improvements.

“We essentially had two funding requests competing for state approval,” County Administrator Richard Crowdis said. “Hopefully by withdrawing our request for exterior renovation funding on the Central branch, it will improve our chances of getting funding for Northwest, which is really the priority need for the system.

“Sometimes in these types of projects you manage to hit on good timing. When the Library Board rebid the (Central) project over legal concerns, they ended up getting a much lower bid. They ended up basically saving the money that will finance the exterior improvements.”

Kelley said that with the county set to help finance the Northwest improvements through as much as $700,000 in SPLOST funding, the state is much more likely to approve the $2 million request.

“We had two requests in the Top 5 competing for funding; now we have only one,” the Library Board chairman said. “And since the county would kick in some of the funding through SPLOST to help with the (Northwest) renovations, the state will see that the county has significant skin in the game. That should definitely help our chances.”

Kelley said talks with Columbus-based Hecht Burdeshaw yielded the kind of answers that made reallocation of the surplus Central funding worth the investment.

“I was afraid we would get renovations that would last only three years or so like the (downtown Albany) Federal Courthouse building, and I didn’t want to see that,” the Albany attorney said. “But our architect assured the Library Board that the exterior renovations should last a good 15 to 20 years, and we voted to move forward with the project. And since we’ll be able to add this to the construction project without delay, it should not push our planned finish date ahead by very much.”

Interim Library Director Pauline Abidde, who has been with the local system for 30 years, said the decision by the Library Board is a plus for the Central facility.

“Yes, it’s going to give us a much nicer presentation,” Abidde said Wednesday. “But more importantly, it’s going to allow us to make needed repairs. We have (exterior) tiles that are cracking, and some of the windows could potentially become safety issues soon.”

Abidde also said that, with the Oct. 9 vote of the board to purchase furnishing and shelving for the Central branch through a state contract, all furnishing has been ordered and should be delivered in plenty of time to coincide with the finish of interior renovations.

“I think that was a good decision,” she said. “It’s going to save us time and, in the long run, money. If we’d gone through the bidding process, we very well might not have gotten our furniture in time and would have had to delay the opening.”

Kelley, meanwhile, said the planned reopening of the system’s Westtown branch, closed by the board over funding concerns, early next year is progressing as planned. He noted that the facility’s doors had been replaced and two new computer stations were being installed.

Abidde said the tedious process of restocking and rebuilding the branch’s collection of books and periodicals has begun, as has installation of lines that will connect the branch to the statewide library system and allow its computer network to go online.