Valdosta Daily Times

October 14, 2012

SPLOST to solve aging library's problems with modern building

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Plainly speaking, the South Georgia Regional Library is in bad shape. Half of the red-brick building was constructed in 1966, and the other in 1995.

Walking in, the atmosphere seems stuffy and archaic — stained ceiling tiles and old carpet, color-neutral walls and little decoration.

The wiring intended to service the computers is buried in the floor and unable to meet current internet standards, and the machines—35 to process 7,000 logins a month—are all clustered together in one area.

The HVAC system is antiquated, riddled with patches and still slowly disintegrating, and replacement of the system would cost upward of $2 million.

Outside, landscaping is lacking, tree roots have broken through the surface of the choked parking lot, and the mortar between the bricks has been eaten away in places over time, creating an environment for bees.

To reiterate: there are honeybees living in the brick walls of the library.

Director Kelly Lenz and Systems Administrator Sean Strickland are hoping to see the construction of a new library that will meet the current needs as well as provide a solution to these problems.

The new library will be funded with the seventh cycle of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, and will solve the two major problems that plague the current building.

“It’s a combination of dilapidation plus the building not being built for what we need,” Strickland said. “It’s really just a brick-and-mortar building with a flat roof. It’s just really past its prime.”

The library is about 32,000 square feet, which, according to Lenz, is far short of current Georgia library standards. Considering the number of citizens of the greater Valdosta area the library serves, it should measure at least 62,000 square feet.

“We’re supposed to have .6 square feet per capita,” Lenz said. “We also don’t have enough space to house a collection of the recommended two books per capita.”

Much of the library’s services are operating at maximum capacity, but perhaps the most notable is the limited number of computers. Numbers show the library needs at least 60 more computers to meet library standards.

“People need computer access to fill out job applications online, work on resumes, to do their taxes, e-mail family members,” Lenz said. “There is a large percentage of people in Lowndes who do not own or know how to use a computer.”

The library offers classes for basic computer skills, and more computers would make that service more efficient. But even if the library received more

 computers, the permanent wiring below the floor is inadequate for current technological needs.

The wiring is limited to outlets buried in the floor, which were poured into the foundation when the building was constructed 45 years ago, when typewriters were still popular and the internet was something out of sci-fi films, if a notion at all.

Both halves of the building were built before the technology revolution of the last 15 years, Strickland explained. But the new building will not only provide capacity for current technology, but also be adaptable to later needs.

The new library will be designed with raised, modular flooring built to be removed in the event an update to electrical routing is deemed necessary.

“Whatever the new thing ends up being, we can take the old out and put the new in because it’s not buried in the floor,” Strickland said. “What we have now, there’s no way to get into it, no pulling out of the conduit, no changing it, no upgrading it.”

If all these problems weren’t enough, the constant repair of problems with the inefficient HVAC system have become exhausting for library personnel.

A new building will save between 20 and 50 percent in costs to operate. More, the building will use a green design that incorporates natural light to improve electrical efficiency.

The parking lot in the current building serves only a maximum of 75 patrons, when the library often sees numbers around 300 on nights when meetings are held.

The roof, built on a flat plane, collects water during thunderstorms and leaks down into the ceiling tiles, leading to stains and mold.

The moisture also poses a threat to some irreplaceable documents housed in the library of which there are no other copies, such as the Heritage Collection.

Bees in the walls might seem a ridiculous claim, but the library on several occasions has attempted to drive out a colony that has staked a claim between the bricks.

The bees just keep returning. There is no way to remove the entire colony and seal the wall without tearing out and relaying the bricks themselves — yet another expense the library can’t afford.

If SPLOST doesn’t pass, the library will continue operating as-is: inefficiently, using the limited space and aged systems as best as possible.

And the bees will remain, maybe to the point where patrons can come in and get a free piece of honeycomb, Lenz joked.