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Williamson library opens Nov. 23

By Dwain W. Penn The approaching holidays are not the only reason why residents in and around Williamson are smiling. The new city library on Patton Street will have its grand opening Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ’It was a long process, full of difficulties and challenges,’ said mayor Steve Fry. ‘It’s worth the perseverance and hard work so many people put into it.’ Ask any current or former council member and he or she will agree with Fry. The project started in 2007 when the Williamson branch of United Bank announced plans to build a new facility. After groundbreaking, bank president John Edwards contacted mayor Bobby Harrison offering to give the old bank building to the city and pay to have it moved. At the first meeting of Williamson council in 2008, plans were discussed and the project christened with the selection of Paul Faulds, local library board chairman, to scout out a good location for a new library. For several months the city cast its net seeking financing from development grants to a bank loan against future impact fees.   By May 2008, the site was chosen on Patton Street next to the city helicopter and deeded over to Pike County. Williamson received a pledge from then-commission chairman Fry that the commissioners would give a $22,000 donation. Before the year ended the building was moved but lack of funds clouded plans. If the library became a branch of the Edwards library in Zebulon, it would have to pay the Flint River Regional System membership of $12,000 a year. In January 2009 Fry was sworn in as the new mayor. The local library board was divided; Faulds was replaced by Karen Merritt as chairman after he sent contractors to Williamson to inspect the building. Donations of books began to trickle in. Spring weather brought news of the library board supporting the branch concept. The Caboose Club offered volunteer labor to renovate the building contingent on the library also being used as a city office and water bill paying station and for Pike to deed the old fire station back to the city. The heat of summer 2009 brought a bureaucratic cat and mouse game. The library board, county commissioners and Williamson waited on each other to make the first move. Williamson stood firm in its commitment to finish the project. Before the second year ended the library property was returned to Williamson. With volunteers ready to work, a tentative opening of the facility, the first of four, was set for spring 2010. Defeat of the local SPLOST referendum in November put a temporary dent in the city’s plans. Council brainstormed to find funds for both a new city hall and library.   Edd Sanders, then warden at the Pike County Pre-Release Center, was invited to a council meeting to offer input on salvaging the negative image the old bank building had acquired from the public. The library board encouraged the effort with a $1,000 donation. Before the end of the third year, Sanders announced books from a Department of Corrections prison library was being donated and the Pike center would keep the 42 boxes of books until room could be found in Williamson. The donation was in addition to the other books, estimated as of May 2010 to be about 4,000. In 2010, the library building was lowered and leveled, allowing teens from the Griffin summer works program to clean inside and organize some reading materials. Outside, seven security lights were installed by Georgia Power from the library to the caboose, a power pole was set and water was hooked up. As council entered the fourth year of the project, prison labor was rounded up, Williamson bought quality library furnishings from a government surplus source and a Thomaston contractor installed the septic system. July brought the sound of construction on the site. Work continued steadily through mid-December, prompting hopes of a potential Christmas grand opening. The post-holiday lull in January 2012 saw the return of a partial DOC work crew for finish work. Students of the Williamson Learning Center designed the layout of the shelves. A National Geographic collection was considered briefly as inventory for an eBay sales campaign to raise funds. An absence of deck rails delayed opening for over a year though a contractor was hired in May. June brought the transfer of residual SPLOST funds totaling $14,000 to the library account but the money couldn’t hasten its completion. The final chapter on the venture was written in the first seven months of 2013. A concrete pad was poured out front, fill dirt graded under the drive-through window, rails found their places on the deck and shelves were filled with a variety of reading media. A potential August opening was too good to believe. Council occupied the building for the Aug. 1 meeting. Councilwoman Lynn Hubbard was appointed library planner and coordinator and her skills brought to fruition a six-year vision, allowing Williamson to make history this month with its new library. Assistant city clerk Gail Floyd was appointed as head librarian and a part-time employee was hired. Local residents who enjoy books may apply as part-time volunteers. The public can come out and browse the shelves Saturday and check out a book or two. The computerized lending program has not been fully implemented but a basic system will allow patrons to borrow books.

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