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June 12, 2014

Jennings library meeting room construction a go

Jasper — At the June 3 meeting of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners, the board agreed to continue forward with plans to construct a new meeting room at the Jennings Public Library; something that has been waiting in the wings since last October when PotashCorp donated $50,000 toward the project.

County Coordinator Louie Goodin said he has been asked about the status of the library construction project, which, according to retired librarian Sandi Allen, the project has been on the drawing board for 10 years awaiting funding.

“We were on the brink of starting to draw plans,” said Goodin.

Then he said he got a phone call, although he didn’t specify from whom, that there may be an opportunity to relocate the library over to North Hamilton Elementary (NHE) some time in the future.

Goodin said he and County Engineer Greg Bailey were working together to draw up the plans for the meeting room at the existing library when he got the call about the possible opportunity to relocate to the NHE library. Goodin asked the board if he should put the meeting room construction on hold until it is known for certain whether or not the elementary school consolidation is going to proceed, whereby NHE would be closed down and be available for new tenants.

“There are so many unknowns at this point,” said Commissioner Beth Burnam. “We hate to spend $50,000 on a converted Jiffy Store (the current library) when there may be other space available.”

Commission Chair Josh Smith said, “In my opinion, after they consolidate it, the need for a library in either one of those towns is probably going to be next to nothing. They’re already here in Jasper. It will take a toll on them. That’s why I hated to see it done because of the toll it’s going to take on White Springs and Jennings.”

“If PCS is willing to spend the money, I’d like to see us spend the money, extend the library and make it better,” said Commissioner Randy Ogburn.

“This is strictly my opinion, but I’d have to think long and hard before I’d take another old, wore out building that I’m going to have to maintain and take care of,” said Commissioner Buster Oxendine.

Burnam interjected that the library at NHE is not one of the old buildings.

Jennings City Councilman Lowell Klepper was in the audience and said, “The amount of money is available ($50,000)...a bird in hand. This consolidation is still up in the air. From what I hear, the earliest it’s going to be is at least two years from now. As school board member Johnny Bullard pointed out at the meeting, it is still uncertain. It still depends on the state legislature appropriating a bunch of money to do this consolidation. It may happen in two years or it may not happen.”

Klepper said in the mean time the construction of the meeting room at the existing library could go on as originally planned. He said he is amazed at the number of kids who are served at the library during the after school program, and that even if the consolidation happens, the bus will still let the kids off out in front of the library.

“I very much urge you to proceed with the project now because the money is available,” said Klepper.

“I’m of the same opinion,” said Oxendine.

White Springs resident and member of the Hamilton County Economic Development Authority Rhett Bullard was also in the audience and he said people use the library to access public assistance programs and computers, and it’s not just people going there to read books.

Oxendine said the county just put a new roof on the Jennings Library a couple years ago and did a lot of other upgrades to the building already.

“I would think we should proceed with the plans to renovate the library and do the construction that we discussed,” Oxendine said.

Burnam reiterated there are still a lot of unknowns at this time, but that there is a lot of potential at NHE, not only for the library, but for other uses.

“Those are things for the Jennings town council and Klepper to decide,” she said.

Smith said by proceeding with the plans at the current library, they would have an upgraded building available in the town of Jennings, even if they decide to move the library over to NHE in the future.

“It’s a $50,000 win for the town of Jennings,” said Smith.

The board agreed to move forward with the agreed upon plans to construct the new meeting room at the current Jennings Public Library.

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