By Adam Smith
— Following months of meetings and the resolution of funding issues, the future of the new Athens-Limestone Public Library appears to be on track.
The city of Athens and the Limestone County Commission recently passed a joint resolution to have Martin & Cobey provide a new estimate for a fee of $5,000 on how much renovating the old Kroger building on Jefferson Street will cost.
Though the projected cost to renovate the 38,000-square-foot building is $6 million, county and city leaders say those cost estimates are two years old and would like to have updated projections as they move forward.
The library is operated off dividends from $2.9 million in Southard Trust funds. City and county leaders have expressed concern about what operating costs would be at the new facility. Library Director Paula Laurita has said the current facility’s average utility bill is about $2,000 per month, but expenses at the new facility will be only slightly more because of green initiatives that will be put in place during construction.
“We’ll be taking advantage of up-to-date construction abilities that were not available when (the current) building was built,” Laurita said. “The cost for heating and cooling (the new) building will be one and a half times what current costs are, or about $3,000 per month.”
She said the new building will utilize recycled rainwater for outside uses and include the use of natural light to help keep heating costs low. The current library is using its original heating and cooling system, Laurita said, which would cost $100,000 to replace. Last winter, the library had to close a few times because the heating unit went out and parts had to be ordered from a company in New England.
Last month, the library board voted unanimously to give $1 million in Southard Trust funds to the foundation as a means of helping the group raise more money through grant applications and fundraising.
However, the measure was approved with the stipulation the library has full use of the building, according to foundation chairman Dr. Frank Cauthen. City officials have expressed an interest in using a portion of the city and county-owned building for a new city hall.
Harvey Craig, library board chairman, said the $1 million foundation gift is a starting point to helping the foundation reach its initial fundraising goal of $2 million toward the project. The foundation has raised about $333,000 through previous fundraisers.
Cauthen said he wants to see the project completed, but it may take more funds than what have already been committed.
Through passing separate resolutions, the city and county have both agreed to contribute $1.1 million each toward the cost of the project, but each entity is counting the cost of the building and in-kind donations and labor — about $643,500 — as part of the sum. To reach full commitment, the city and county would both have to ante up $456,500 each.
Funds from each of the four parties will be deposited in a joint account overseen by the city.
Last month, Marks said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the four-way funding issues that have consistently surrounded the project, but reiterated the quality of life need for a new library.
“The (funding) resolution from the city and county were as clear as anyone could write it,” he said. “If other groups come to the table with less, I’m not going to kill the project. We will build with what money is available; we are going to complete it.”