Lassiter urges Duluth to select library site

DULUTH - Gwinnett County Commissioner Shirley Lassiter encouraged the Duluth City Council to select a site for a proposed new library even though it may be three to four years and maybe longer before enough funds will be available for it to be built.

Speaking at an informal gathering Monday of Duluth officials and members of the city's Downtown Development Authority, Lassiter and other Gwinnett officials reported that the tight economy has delayed plans for the library.

Steve North, director of Gwinnett County's Department of Support Services, explained that the county had designated $15 million for library construction out of special purpose local option sales tax funds to be collected through 2014. This amount has been scaled back to $13 million over the five-year period, he said, and further reduced to 11.7 million, representing a 90 percent collection rate.

The library system's plans include relocating both the Lilburn and Duluth libraries and replacing them with larger facilities. Lilburn already has purchased a site.

North pointed out that a one-story library under construction in the Hamilton Mill community is costing about $7.5 million to build and may not open as scheduled because of budget cuts that may eliminate funds to staff and operate it.

A two- or three-story urban library in downtown Duluth surrounded by retail shops has been envisioned for the new facility. Duluth Mayor Nancy Harris, council members and citizens have expressed varying opinions on three sites under consideration.

The council's choices include locating the library on West Lawrenceville Street in a proposed redevelopment of the old city hall block, a site on Main Street across from the new City Hall and another site on Hill Street behind the new City Hall. The city owns most of the property on the former city hall site. It would have to purchase the Main Street or Hill Street site.

The DDA has voted to support placing the library in the redevelopment project.

Ron Hovell, director of capital projects for the county's Department of Support Services, reported that a two-story library might cost as much as $11 million to $12 million to construct depending on site and architectural variables. A one-story library on the Main Street site would probably be the least costly, he said.

Lassiter, the former mayor of Duluth, who has indicated she personally favors the old city hall site, emphasized that the decision was the council's to make. "The county is willing to work with you within our financial constraints," she said.

Lassiter suggested that the council choose a site in order to be prepared to proceed with plans for the library if the economy improves and more SPLOST funds become available in the future. "You've got to keep planning and be ready to go when the money does come in," she said.

The proposed 22,000-square-foot new Duluth library, which would include a 2,000 square foot community room, would replace an existing 10,000-square-foot heavily used facility.