Rick Badie's Gwinnett: Library hours tough to read

Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks couldn’t take my initial call the morning after the Gwinnett County Library Board of Trustees decided to close the town library. He was on the horn with Nancy Stanbery-Kellam, the board’s executive director.

“We’re drilling her with questions,” Wilbanks told me before getting off the phone, “and I don’t think she likes the questions.”

On Wednesday morning, residents in this north Gwinnett hub awoke to dreaded news. Their 3-year-old library had become a casualty of the county’s budget war. The facility, located next to Dacula Park, will close so that the new $7.4 million Hamilton Mill library can open. Personnel from the Dacula branch will staff the new facility, which will be complete in December.

In a special meeting Tuesday, library board trustees decided it didn’t make sense to let a brand new building sit unused and sprout weeds. So, by a 3-1 vote, they agreed to shutter the Dacula facility.

In Dacula, the issue of a library — of simply building one in town — has always been a politically sensitive issue. City leaders and bookworms in the fast-growing hamlet led the charge for a library for years.

In 2001, when it appeared that construction was imminent, a threatening issue arose. There was a flip-flop between what town should get a library first — Dacula or Grayson. Then-Gwinnett Commissioner John Dunn toyed with the idea of building a library in Grayson, not Dacula. This despite the fact Dacula had waited the longest and had 2000 census figures to justify service. (50,000 residents lived within 5 miles of the proposed site; the town’s population had grown more than 70 percent from 1990 to 2000).

Given the history, political shenanigans and the seemingly endless wait for service, it’s understandable why the decision to close the library has riled Wilbanks and others.

“We were the 13th library to open,” the mayor told me, “and it was a long time coming. There was a lot of political clamor about it then, and there will be lot of political clamor about it now.”

Surely there was a better way.

A better way to inform the public that cost-saving measures were needed beyond those that have been taken already. A better way to pinch pennies so the pain could be spread among all branches in the nationally acclaimed 14-library network.

Tough times have taken a toll on county libraries.

Starting this week, county libraries close completely on Sundays and Mondays; hours during open days have also been cut. Other cuts included an 8 percent reduction in purchases; the elimination of security officers and shelvers; and the curtailment of programs such as the summer reading sessions.

Now this. A town that sits halfway between Atlanta and Athens feels blindsided, and deservedly so.

Check out the City Hall Web site.

“We fought hard to get that library,” wrote dcsjms, “and it is used heavily by a lot of people. Now that school has opened, it’s a valuable resource to the kids at the schools. It’s going to be real hard for them to walk to Hamilton Mill.”

And this from knjshields, a Hamilton Mill resident who deemed the decision “unfair to the residents living close in to the library, especially the kids! In addition, the new branch will be overcrowded due to draws from the surrounding communities and traffic will increase through Hamilton Mill.

“This is an injustice for all.”

Mayor Wilbanks has written a letter to all five county commissioners and asked them to look into the matter. To fix it.

He’s a glass half-empty type of guy, though.

“It will get uglier, he said, “before it gets prettier.”