By Kim West
The Athens-Limestone Public Library is projected to move into its renovated digs in the former Kroger at the corner of Jefferson and Forrest streets as early as April 2014.
Kerrick Whisenant of construction manager Limestone Building Group said first phase work to the site, facade and roof is slated to begin by June 1. The interior design will take place during the second phase, which is expected to take four to six months and should begin as soon as the first phase is completed, which is projected to be by December.
The first phase has a budget of up to $2.5 million, which includes more than $2.4 million in construction costs, Whisenant said. The city of Athens and Limestone County are providing joint funding for the project.
The City Council unanimously approved a resolution to approve the funding in a last-minute agenda addition at Monday’s meeting. Councilman Jimmy Gill questioned the $18,000 estimate for two stone or brick signs at the Jefferson and Forrest streets entrances to the library. He said one sign on Jefferson should be enough.
The County Commission will consider approval of the budget at its May 6 meeting.
The current operating budget for the library draws funding from four major revenue streams: $115,000 from the city, $80,000 from the county, $65,000 from the state and an undisclosed amount by the private Southard Trust endowment established in the mid-1990s, said Library Director Paula Laurita.
The library has been housed at its current location at 405 E. South St. since 1970.
The Library Foundation, which met a $1 million Dekko Foundation challenge grant in 2012, is continuing to raise money to go toward operating capital for the new library and the interior design, which has not been finalized and could be expanded with additional funding.
Debbie Joyner, a consultant hired by the foundation in July 2011 to ramp up fundraising efforts, confirmed more than $6 million has been raised through donations and pledges.
“I’m proud of the foundation because they’re the ones that have been raising money. But just getting (the library) started doesn’t mean it’s finished,” Chairman Frank Cothren said during an April 18 community forum hosted by the library. “We need to continue to ask friends, church members and family for donations.”
Rod Huffman, chairman of the Library Board of Trustees, said fundraising efforts began eight years ago. He said initial doubts were raised about the likelihood of raising enough money for a new library.
“There were times we were questioned whether this would flop. We flopped along the ground like a buzzard trying to get off the ground, and it did because of the library foundation board,” said Huffman.
CMH Architects of Birmingham provided an exterior sketch and preliminary floor plan of the new library during the community forum but Whisenant cautioned the drawings could be adjusted according to available funding.
Whisenant said the exterior facade would include wainscoting, Alabama limestone and a double-door entrance. Small and large meeting rooms, quiet study spaces, a computer lab and an after-hours area with a coffee shop and access to meeting rooms are planned for the interior.
“The interior has yet to be designed, and we’ll have a check of funding to make sure reality is put in check as we complete the first phase,” Whisenant said. “There will be double doors at the main entrance, and we’ll be putting in an after-hours foyer that will include a coffee shop and access to meeting rooms and bathrooms. The idea is to get the shell done for the exterior in no more than six months.”
Laurita described the transition from a cozy, community library to a spacious, state-of-the-art facility as “a wild adventure.”
“We are going to continue to offer the great services we’ve offered in the past … but there are going to be a lot of good changes,” Laurita said. “Our computer usage has grown exponentially every year, and we’ve had a 51 percent increase in our computer and wireless system. In the new library, we’ll have public computers, plus a dedicated computer lab for programs or training.”
Based on square footage, nearly four buildings the size of the current library nestled near Julian Newman Elementary could squeeze into the new library.
The current building is 9,760 square feet, while the new library site will house 38,427 square feet, according to library officials.
“Our opening program last summer had 440 people (in the main library) room. With the new library, we’ll be able to better host large activities and group activities, and we’ll be able to better host the community’s needs,” Laurita said.
State standards show that Limestone County, home to 87,654 residents in a 2012 estimate by the U.S. Census, is large enough to support a library with at least 37,106 square feet.
Sandy McNeal, business manager for the ALPL, said the library has received at least 80,000 visitors each fiscal year since 2007-08. The number of reference requests has increased 73 percent from 21,381 six years ago to 37,009 in 2011-12.
“It’s going to be a lot bigger, and even more people will be coming to visit the library,” said library aide Jennifer Campuzano, who has been a library patron since 2004 and a part-time worker since September. “It will be good for people like my brother, who are in walking distance from the new library.”
—Reporter Jean Cole contributed to this report.