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Library board: Sharon Forks expansion is priority
Possible two new branches shelved for now

SOUTH FORSYTH — Plans are being made to move forward on a large expansion of the Sharon Forks Library — with or without a $2 million state construction grant that could be awarded during the next Georgia legislative session.

The Forsyth County Public Library’s board was presented with budget scenarios and project priorities during its meeting Monday night.

After some discussion, it was decided the focus should remain on “making Sharon Forks the most efficient and largest space” rather than using funds to buy land in the county’s southwest corner for a fifth library branch.

Long-term plans of building two new branches, one in the southwest and the other in northwest Forsyth, also were aired at last month’s board meeting. But even with funding, a southwest branch would not open until at least 2023, according to Jon McDaniel, the library system’s director.

According to Holly Barfield, the system’s assistant director for information technology, those proposed branches would nearly eliminate a drive time longer than 12 minutes to any library, but she noted the Sharon Forks branch is at or above capacity.

And with the rapidly growing population in south Forsyth, an expansion could quell more immediate needs of library-goers.

“The concentration of card holders is in the Sharon Forks area,” Barfield said. “With four libraries now, it takes about one-third of the [total] use.”

Budget scenarios prioritized technology needs, which may be complicated during an expansion and renovation, including a potential raised floor for electrical drops and building the capacity for a hotspot for meeting rooms and public devices.

Budgets and expansion blueprints remain in the early stages, as bids for architects and engineers haven’t gone out. Still, the initial talks give the library administration a starting point to give to an architect, said Anna Lyle, assistant director for support services.

If the state grant does not come through, a tentative budget of $4.6 million would allow for a 9,000 square-foot expansion, according to McDaniel.

But if the library system receives the grant, the expansion could increase to 12,000 square feet — the existing structure is 20,500 square feet — to be completed with an approximate $5.4 million in funding.

This would include the grant and $1.7 million in impact fees from the 2011 voter-approved extension of the 1-cent sales tax. About $1.5 million has been collected.

Theoretically, Lyle said, the state grant could be used toward the Sharon Forks expansion while the impact fees could be set aside to buy land.

Sharon Forks has the largest circulation based on checkout rates of libraries in the state, and collection checkout rates are high enough to show they are “buying the right things,” said Kristin Morrissey, library board secretary and treasurer.

Based on a snapshot from the last business day of September, Sharon Forks had the highest checkout rates of all four local branches in nearly every category.

Early readers were at 68 percent, easy board books reached 77 percent, and juvenile graphic novels were at 61 percent, said Linda Kelly, assistant director for materials.

When checkout rates, which are based on books currently checked out as a percentage of the total collection, in the 30 percentiles are good numbers, “I just look at these reports and cannot believe it sometimes,” Kelly said.

Those numbers clearly show the need to expand the juvenile area, said Stephen Kight, the system’s assistant director for public services. So many families use the library, the aisles and tables get too crowded with strollers and groups of people.

Kight said they also need a larger space for programs, so the meeting room would be expanded.

The adult area would also be enlarged, he said, to combine the fiction and nonfiction sections into one large room, with shelved collections on the sides and an open space with tables and chairs in the middle.

Eight study rooms would be added, where people can gather to talk in a more private setting or bring personal devices and use a quieter space.

Entrances into the library would be consolidated into one door on the side, which is where both the external and internal book drop would be located.

Expansions to the juvenile and adult areas could come off the back of the building, keeping the front façade intact and allowing an expansion of parking spaces from 143 to 175.