The Covington Library in central DeKalb County will be renovated with money that was previously designated to build a new library at Wade Walker Park.

New DeKalb library scuttled amid land dispute

DeKalb County commissioners abandoned plans to build a library south of Stone Mountain, in large part because it would have been located on park land that’s reserved for outdoor recreation.

Commissioners voted 7-0 on Tuesday to defund the proposed Wade Walker Library and redirect $4 million to instead renovate existing libraries.

Two factors killed the Wade Walker Library: a land dispute and costs. The library’s proposed location was on property at Wade Walker Park restricted to outdoor use, and it would have cost a total of $6 million to $8 million.

DeKalb County’s government planned to build the Wade Walker YMCA on park land that the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says is dedicated for outdoor recreational use. ANA LAURA ARAYA/Special

The Wade Walker Library was a priority for former Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton, the former Budget Committee chairwoman who secured funding for the library in 4-3 votes in 2015 and 2016.

But soon after last year’s vote, county officials learned they couldn’t build on the site because Wade Walker Park was bought and developed using $715,000 in federal grants through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The county contributed an equal amount in matching funds.

Federal rules require that parks acquired or developed with those grant funds must remain usable park land forever.

Commissioner Steve Bradshaw, who defeated Sutton in an election last year, said it’s time to move on.

“Why would we want to go down this path?” Bradshaw wrote in a June 1 letter to his fellow commissioners. “The rationale for determining not to move forward with a library at this location is very sound.”

Instead of spending on the Wade Walker Library, $1.5 million will pay for renovations at the Sue Kellogg Library in Stone Mountain and $2 million will go toward improvements at the Covington Library. The remaining $500,000 will be held in reserve or could be dedicated toward upgrades at the Clarkston Library. The funding comes from left-over bond funds approved by voters in 2005.

The Sue Kellogg Library in Stone Mountain, along with the Covington Library, will be renovated with money that had been dedicated to build a new Wade Walker Library. The DeKalb Commission voted Tuesday to redirect $4 million in funding.

“Focusing on the existing libraries at this point is a more prudent action to take,” said DeKalb Library Director Alison Weissinger. “We’re still struggling from inadequate operating funds, so improving something that already exists makes more sense.”

The libraries need renovations of restrooms, roofs and interior spaces, along with new furniture, Weissinger said. Eventually, a library larger than existing facilities should be built in the central DeKalb area, she said.

Stone Mountain Mayor Patricia Wheeler thanked county commissioners Tuesday for supporting the Sue Kellogg Library, which the county identified last year as being the library in greatest need of renovations.

“We’re very happy,” she said. “This library not only serves the city of Stone Mountain but serves many, many citizens outside the city.”

Besides the library, the U.S. National Park Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are reviewing a YMCA that was opened at Wade Walker Park in 2012. Because the park land was restricted for outdoor purposes, DeKalb’s government may be required to dedicate land elsewhere in the county for park use.

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In other DeKalb news:

Sheriff Jeff Mann was suspended for several weeks after an indecency arrest in Piedmont Park.

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