New Duluth library serves as ‘homage’ to city’s history

One of the busiest branches of the Gwinnett County Public Library finally got a new building, complete with a modern interior and an exterior that recognizes the history of a Gwinnett city.

The new library branch in Duluth opened to the public on Wednesday. The 22,000-square-foot building, located on Main Street across from City Hall, will not only give residents a new place to check out books but also serve as a reminder of a long-gone structure.

The exterior of the library borrows its style from a cricket box factory that once resided on Main Street at the current location of Red Clay Music Foundry. The factory that manufactured cricket boxes, small containers for fishermen to keep live crickets to use as a bait, ceased to exist decades ago.

City and county officials started planning a new library branch more than a decade ago. City officials convinced architects to include brick architecture and large, open windows to pay homage to the factory, mimicking the style of manufacturing warehouses from the 1800s.

“I like to keep the stories alive, and the buildings help us do that,” said Mayor Nancy Harris, who became mayor in 2007 after running on a platform of historical redevelopment.

The county spent $5.1 million on construction of the new branch, funded by voter-approved Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections. The facility has 36 computer stations, a meeting room that can fit 120 people with retractable walls for added capacity and two learning labs with areas for sewing, crafting, 3D printing and coding.

“There’s no greater investment than you can have for the mind of a young child,” said Chris McGahee, economic development director of the city.

The city hopes to add on to the library and play up the historical theme. Harris has independently collected more than $200,000, which she plans to spend on three projects that will nod to the cricket box factory and the nearby Chattahoochee River.

Harris plans to install a projector that will show an image on the floor that makes people feel as if they’re walking through water, a nod to the river flowing near Duluth. “I’m a former elementary school principal, so I get excited about stuff like that,” she said.

When Duluth was known as Howell’s Crossing, travelers and their animals crossed the Chattahoochee River on small ferries that looked like rafts, Harris said. She wants to create a replica of one of the ferries and place it in the library.

With the funds raised by Harris, the city also plans to place oversized cricket statues around the library and all across town in the next one to two years. Businesses will be able to purchase the crickets with a plaque on their side saying who donated them.

Credit: City of Duluth

Credit: City of Duluth

The former library branch, located on Duluth Park Lane, will be sold to a private developer, Harris said. It paled in comparison to the new branch, as the new building is about twice as big as the old one.

In a statement, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said facilities like the new branch “help our residents gain new skills and expand their minds.” Hendrickson and other county and city officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new branch on Tuesday.