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Is Whitepath the Answer for New Library?

By Debi Holcomb, Fannin Sentinel Staff Writer

Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Stan Helton, Post I Earl Johnson and Post II Glenn Patterson, met with Claudia Gibson, Interim Director of Mountain Regional Library Board, along with several members of the Fannin County Library Board at a Special Called Meeting Thursday, January 23.
Helton began, “Basically today is our first get together if you want to call it that to start making, not decisions so much, but having a discussion. We will not be entertaining public commentary.”

He continued, “Our BOC a week ago voted to retain Sutton Architectural Services, Mr. Peter Sutton for pre-design of the Whitepath building. Now the purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the Court House fulfills a mandated referendum approved by the voters in November 2016.”

Helton then said this move has afforded an opportunity to offer the library a bigger space with better parking. Johnson said he was on the board when the referendum was voted on for a parking deck/administrative building.

A private firm is now building a parking deck in downtown Blue Ridge at no cost to taxpayers. Johnson then said the entire SPLOST monies would then go to an Administration building. Johnson said the Administration building and the Library were two separate issues, but the Whitepath building happens to provide space to offer the Library.

Johnson explained his goal in moving the (county) administrative offices to a new location was to alleviate parking problems, have all offices on a ground level so residents would not have to go from floor to floor to conduct county business. He also wanted to eliminate the need to climb stairs to enter the building.

Patterson said, “My background as an educator for 33 years, I am excited about the Library. I am not a big fan of some of you, the process. I’m very surprised. But what a gift and what an opportunity for all of us to get a library and not just a library of any type, but a good library.” He said he knew there would be hurdles to jump and the whole thing was not a done deal.

Library Board member Steven Miracle told the BOC that the state recommends a 19,000 sq. ft. footprint.

He stated he used the current library quite a bit and if the new building could support 19,000 sq. ft. he feels it would benefit the community.

Library Board member Ron Bolin explained that State Standards would be like a C grade. It is average. He said for him it was critical that whether the library was in the new building or built as a stand-alone, it needed to meet State Standards.

Bolin also expressed concerns saying, “Where is this money coming from?” The BOC approved the 2020 budget with a shortfall. “What assurances do we have in the future that the Commissioners, I am talking about future Commissioners, because we will be sharing this with other departments, we need that space and you need to move,” said Bolin. He worried that Library funds would be used to renovate part of the building and later the library could be forced to move again. No one answered his concerns.

Sutton spoke to the group about his company’s past projects including libraries. He said he was intimate with the location and it was structurally safe. Sutton said the building would allow the library to have larger space and sufficient parking with future possibilities of expansion.

Bolin asked about an existing drainage problem where water flows toward the building instead of away. Sutton agreed, but said it could be fixed.

Marcella O’Steen tried to ask a question from the audience and Helton responded, “Ma’am, I’m sorry we are not entertaining questions.” O’Steen said, “I know,” and tried to ask her question anyway. Helton told her, “This is a meeting between the BOC and the Library Board, and we said at the beginning of the meeting we would not be entertaining that. Please. Thank You.”

Gibson explained to the group it may be July before the library finds out if Fannin County has been approved for the 1.3 million dollars Speaker of the House David Ralston announced January 2.

Johnson said even if the grant were approved, that is 1.3 million and the County would throw in $500,000 which would bring the total to just under 2 million. If the library was to meet state standards, 19,000 sq. ft. would cost $105 per sq. ft. and that cannot be done. “Realistically, there is no way we can build anything for $105 per sq. ft.,” said Johnson. Currently the library occupies 6,800 sq. ft. inside the Court House.

Sutton offered alternatives such as starting out with a much smaller library with a plan to expand in the future if the state grant would allow for that.

After the meeting adjourned, taxpayer Jan Eaton asked Helton when and if the public would be allowed input. Helton turned and walked away without a word.

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