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Analysis says Athens would need $9 million to build new library

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

An architect estimates that it would take about $9 million to build a new Athens-Limestone library that meets state standards and plans for growth.

Neal Davis of Davis Architects in Birmingham conducted a space-needs analysis for the library. He told the Athens City Council on Monday night that Athens would need a 45,000-square-foot facility if it takes into account projected population growth through 2025, estimated at 90,685 countywide.

Athens is still using the same 10,000-square-foot library built in 1970, when the county's population was 41,699, with a collection of 3,000 volumes. Now the population is almost 72,500 and the collection is up to 61,203 volumes.

Based on Alabama Library Standards, Davis said, the Limestone library needs at least 37,106 square feet to meet minimum requirements.

Davis' study said the Athens-Limestone library needs collection space, seating space for library users, staff work stations, meeting rooms, public computers, a study/tutor room, an archives room, staff lounge, storage space and telecommunications room.

Davis said the current location on South Street is not conducive to an expansion and the property isn't large enough for a new building. He said it wouldn't be cost prohibitive to add a story or two to the old building.

Mayor Dan Williams said the library board, council and Limestone County Commission considered the former Kroger building on Jefferson Street. He said that 35,000-square-foot building would have solved the library's problems, but "it all fell through for some reason."

Williams said another problem with the library is personnel, who aren't considered city or county employees and are underpaid in both salaries and benefits.

"We can't build a new building and pay the employees minimum wage," Williams said.

While Williams and the council members agreed that a new library is definitely needed, they also agreed that funding, or lack thereof, is the main issue. They pointed out that the library is a city-county partnership with the Limestone County Commission.

Council President Harold Wales said the only choices for the city and the county are to float a bond, raise taxes or divert a portion of the alcohol funding.

"I hate to even mention taxes," Wales said. "We were really trying to let the alcohol fund build to $1 million, and we're almost there, so we don't really want to touch that money."

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