Officials break ground on new library



In just one heave, Clayton County, Forest Park and state library officials ceremonially turned six years of planning for a new, $5.1 million facility for the Forest Park library branch into a reality, on a chilly afternoon on Thursday.

The officials smiled for photographs, and they then dug their gold painted shovels into a patch of dirt, on a field between two vacant houses next to First Baptist Church of Forest Park, to the cheers of onlookers. It was a moment that was a long time coming for local leaders.

Throughout the event, the giddy excitement of the officials and 50 other attendees overshadowed the fact that they were having to hug themselves to stay warm in the chilly afternoon air.

“A lot of work has been done already, but now, we’re getting to the really fun and exciting part, and we’re really glad to have all of you here to mark this occasion and break some ground,” said Clayton County Library System Director Carol Stewart.

The ground-breaking ceremony begins the work of building the new 16,000-square-foot Forest Park facility, which will be located on West Street, in Forest Park. Stewart said the facility, which will be twice the size of the existing, 44-year-old library, is expected to open in the fall of 2012.

Alan Harkness, the Georgia Public Library Service’s Assistant Librarian for Library Development, said he was “really proud,” as a Lake City native and former Clayton County Library System employee, to see the new branch move a step closer to becoming a reality.

Harkness is a graduate of Forest Park High School, and he said he spent “17 years as a user” of the existing Forest Park library branch, as a youth, before going to work for the county’s library system.

“I’m proud of this community, because you’re giving yourself a gift that you’re going to be giving yourselves for a long time to come, and I’m just really excited about that,” he said.

The new library will feature space for a collection of 64,000 books, magazines, journals and other materials, according to a fact sheet distributed to attendees at the ground-breaking ceremony.

The document explains that construction of the facility is being paid for with $3.1 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds, and a $2 million state public library capital outlay grant.

The fact sheet also shows that the new facility will have a teen room, a multi-purpose meeting room, a computer lab for computer classes, a children’s program room, a homework center, a toddler area, 82 public-use computers and public seating for 246 people.

“The world is at our doorstep, so please join us in celebrating this newest library,” said Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell. He was joined at the ceremony by County Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, and Commissioner Gail Hambrick, whose district includes the location of the new library.

“We’ve been waiting on this for awhile, so, finally I think we really have it going, and we’ll probably have something in place by [the end of] 2012,” Hambrick said. “We’re so happy, and so thrilled today to be able to break ground.”