Loganville residents speak out against new library

Loganville residents are hesitant for the city's library board to apply for a $2 million grant to help pay for a new library building. (Courtesy City of Loganville)
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Loganville residents are hesitant for the city's library board to apply for a $2 million grant to help pay for a new library building. (Courtesy City of Loganville)

Tensions rose at a Monday night meeting in Loganville where about 25 residents voiced their concerns to city and library officials over the possibility of a new library and how it’d be funded.

Officials for the O’Kelly Memorial Library want to apply for a $2 million state capital outlay grant to construct a new facility. They need a blessing from City Council to pursue the funds, but some residents worry that taxes would increase to pay for the rest of the construction.

Councilmember Anne Huntsinger told taxpayers it’s too early to know the location for the new building, how much it would cost and from where additional funds would come. She urged city officials to allow the library to at least apply for the grant, comparing it to a scholarship.

“If at the point when the grant is awarded and the city doesn’t have the money and the world stops, I’m sure we have the opportunity to say ‘No, thank you, please pass it to the next people,’” Huntsinger said. “At this point, going for the grant does not obligate us to take it or to build.”

Residents pressed Nathan Rall, a director with the Georgia Public Library Service, to guarantee that the library could turn down the funds if awarded, but he could not. He said he’s only aware of one library giving back the funds.

City Council is scheduled to decide Thursday on letting the library proceed with an application, but it could be tabled.

The library favors a downtown location, said Stacy Brown, executive director of the Azalea Regional Library System, but no specific location has been identified.

Some residents believe library officials favor placing the new building on about 3 acres of land near a Methodist church on Main Street.

“That’s where we’ve been promised we would get a restaurant or shops, so we don’t trust them,” said Melanie Long, a longtime Loganville resident and business owner. “They have an ulterior motive. There’s something about this that doesn’t smell right, and we just don’t trust (city officials).”

Councilmember Lisa Newberry wanted to wait to give the OK for the application, wary of a potential tax increase to pay for it later in the process. The library could cover the costs through fundraising and other means instead of having the city raise taxes to cover them, Huntsinger said.

Terry Parsons, a Loganville resident, said he’s concerned that taxpayers would get “slapped in the face” to cover the rest of the construction cost if the library is awarded the grant. “You’re basically making a tacit endorsement of support for something you have no idea about,” he said.

The library needs support from the city in order to apply for the grant, Brown said. The state Legislature will approve the grants in the coming year, and the library would receive the funds in 2023.

The library discussion comes as city officials are planning how to rehabilitate downtown Loganville, a city split between Gwinnett and Walton counties. The city unveiled a $180-million project a few years ago that was scrapped in response to negative feedback from residents.

Brown said the existing library on Conyers Road has reached its shelf life. Built out of stucco, it has leaks and roof issues, she said. The board favors a new facility twice the size of the current one with greenspace to catch up with the rapid growth of Loganville, she said.

Some residents favor fixing the existing library, built in 1989 on land donated for the sole purpose of a library. Long said the library should either remain where it is or move into an unused portion of City Hall.

The grant could not be used on an existing building, Brown said. Even if funding is found elsewhere, the current property the existing library sits on couldn’t accommodate an expansion, she said. City and library officials said they have received phone calls and emails in support of a library expansion.