What to do with Atlanta’s Central Library remains an open question

No matter where Atlanta’s Central Library is located or what it looks like, Gabriel Morley said, the Fulton County library system will be fine.

“We’re going to be a good library wherever we are. We’re going to adapt to whatever space we have,” said Morley, the new director of the library system. “The building doesn’t define us at all. That’s just our location.”

But the location of Central Library, at One Margaret Mitchell Square, is a point of contention. Tuesday night, about 80 people came to the library to learn about proposals for the main branch and to share their thoughts on it future.

Central Library, which opened in 1980, has a leaky roof and elevators that are in need of repair. It is estimated that repairs could cost $85 million on the Brutalist building, which was the last building to be designed by famed architect Marcel Breuer.

Plenty of residents are in favor of keeping and repairing the building, whether it remains as a library or is used as a museum or other public space.

“It has so much potential,” said Marlee Givens, who lives two blocks from Central Library and said she visits it weekly. “This is a building worth hanging on to.”

In the coming months, Fulton County commissioners must decide whether to spend the money to fix it or to build a downtown library branch that is about 20 percent of the size of the 265,000-square-foot main branch. That option could cost $40 million.

Fulton County residents in 2008 approved $275 million in bonds to renovate existing libraries and build new branches as part of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System.

As part of the original proposal, a new, larger Central Library was to be built, partly with private funding. But that new funding didn’t come, and the need for a larger library has been questioned.

A new central branch could have state-of-the-art technology and be more vibrant than the existing building, according to the county. But it could also be further from MARTA and acquiring downtown land could be difficult. By renovating Central Library, the county could transform it into a destination and add other functions to the building. Making the existing building accessible could be a challenge.

County commissioners will continue to discuss the issue.

“This is an opportunity for us to hear you,” Fulton Chairman John Eaves said as the meeting began. “We value you, we value your input, we’re excited about what you have to say.”

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