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Controversial computer lab motion nixed

LAWRENCEVILLE - Library officials Wednesday reversed a decision to convert branches into computer labs, choosing instead a more "equitable" plan to deal with budget cuts.

The called meeting settled an issue that began in August, when the board voted to close the Dacula branch to move staff and open its 15th branch in the Hamilton Mill community.

An uproar in the eastern Gwinnett community caused the board last month to instead adopt a regional approach to its system, converting three branches to be regional hubs and three to be computer labs.

That vote caused Dacula mother Andrea Long to leave the September meeting in tears, but on Wednesday, she beamed as she left the library system's headquarters in Lawrenceville.

"I can't wait to call my kids to tell them we won and saved the library," said Long, the president of the Alcova Elementary PTA. "It made all the hours and all the fighting worth it."

The new solution will reduce hours of all the local branches to 35 hours a week, beginning next year, and will cause staff furloughs.

But Library Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said the new strategy was necessary to regain public support, after commissioners and legislators threatened to drop even more funding than the budget crisis made necessary.

The hours will be determined through surveys at each branch, and would likely stagger days, after people became upset this summer when the hours were cut from 71 to 41, causing all local libraries to be closed on Sundays and Mondays.

"I'm glad the library board finally heard us," Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said. "We shouldn't have had to go through all this folderol to get to this most equitable solution in these economic times."

Library Board Chairwoman Phyllis Oxendine, who pointed out that she did not vote for the previous plan, said she sympathized with people in Dacula, Snellville and Lilburn, whose branch would have been converted to labs.

"No matter where you live in the county, you deserve the same services as anyone else in the county," she said. "I think this is a very fair and very equitable for everyone. ... There will be no libraries in the county with any books removed."

About 35 community members packed the meeting room, and all of them cheered when the board voted for the plan.

"It takes someone to have gumption and stand up," said Gloria DiMaggio Tow, who thanked Dacula's representatives for leading the fight before she began a petitioning campaign in Lilburn. "We forget that government is there for the people, and we are supposed to make them accountable."

With the library issue settled, Dacula Business Association President Chad Parson said his community isn't done yet.

"The library is saved. The pool is next," he said, adding that the group would shift its focus to the local pool, which may not reopen next summer because of budget cuts.