Originally created 01/25/03

Columbia County delays taking bids to build new facility until funding arrives



Columbia County residents will have to wait at least an extra six months to check out books from the county's new main library.

Officials have decided to delay taking bids on the $12 million building until May or June to ensure enough penny-tax money is in county coffers. They had hoped to take bids for the building this month.

"You don't want to get to the end of the project and not have collected enough," said Mark Chostner, the county's manager of construction. "We want to build this project without borrowing any money; that's part of the referendum we agreed to."

So far, sales tax collections for the past 12 months are 8.76 percent higher than in the previous 12 months. But they still are not where officials hoped they would be. The check for October 2002 - the last one the county received - was about $8,500 less than the October 2001 check, according to Project Accountant Mary Blalock.

"It's just been slow due to the economy slowdown," said County Administrator Steve Szablewski. "Our collections continue to grow, but we are not in a boom."

Once construction on the new main library starts - probably in September - it'll take 18-20 months to build and four more months to move in and open, Mr. Chostner said.

The plans for the building, which are about 95 percent complete, show 48,000 square feet of space, including a 250- to 280-seat community performing arts theater. The library will be built on property behind the county's judicial center in Evans.

The new branch would be about four times the size of the county's Warren C. Gibbs Memorial Library on Belair Road. That branch - one of three in the county - was built in 1982, when the county's population was a little more than 40,000.

Columbia County Library Director Christina Rice said the county's growth has made the building obsolete as a library. Last year, 110,000 people passed through the building, and there are 17,870 people registered in the state's library network.

When the 10,564-square-foot building was built, it could house about 40,000 books. There are now more than 68,000 books in the building, and officials have added a portable building to hold meetings and special events.

"We're running out of places to put books," she said. "We're trying to figure out how to utilize Gibbs and continue to get new books for the next two years."

Meanwhile, officials are still talking about what they'll do with the Gibbs Library building. Mr. Szablewski said the building will remain in public use and carry the Gibbs family name - both requirements of the county's agreement for using the land.

"That's still several years away," he said. "We've evaluated a few possibilities, but no final decision has been made."

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.