With $9 million approval, east Cobb's Gritters Library to double in size

Mar. 15—MARIETTA — It was all relief for Commissioner JoAnn Birrell last week as she and her peers on the Cobb Board of Commissioners approved more than $9 million in funding for a rebuild of Gritters Library in east Cobb.

The project will take it from an aging 7,000-square-foot building to a new 14,000-square-foot facility that will also house community and workforce resource centers.

Major features of the new building will include reading and study rooms, expanding an existing multipurpose room, creating an outdoor programming space, and consolidating services into a one-stop service desk.

Birrell said the rebuild is needed because the current one is too small for the surrounding community, not to mention outdated: Gritters was built in 1972 and opened Nov. 19, 1973.

According to the county, the current facility has dealt with mold and mildew problems as well as plumbing issues, and it has become increasingly challenging for the county to maintain.

The library will be closed during construction, at which time patrons will be directed to other county libraries. Cobb's mobile book service will also assist in serving the surrounding community.

Travis Stalcup, the country's property management director, said he expects construction to start sometime this spring or early summer and last around 14 months, though that schedule is subject to change.

Keeping the 'small library feel'

At Gritters, Tedrick Lindley was reading the MDJ. He said he spends time at Gritters, which he's been visiting for about four years, if not at his usual branch, Switzer Library on Roswell Street.

Lindley said he'll pick up a recent edition of the Journal, surf the web or browse some of the puzzles Gritters carries. Lindley is excited for the prospect of a new library, saying he had recently heard the building was 50 years old.

"I guess it would be nice to see a new one," he said.

He added that it seems to be a great library for children, something echoed by Maria Benac, Gritters' branch manager.

One colleague who has been there for 16 years has seen children from her storytime program grow up and bring their own kids to the library.

Benac also said that she looks forward to keeping the "small library feel in getting to know our community" even with a bigger, brand new facility.

She thanked Birrell and other advocates for the library throughout the county, and last but not least, those who frequent Gritters for all it offers.

"I'm really thankful for the opportunity to have a new library for the community," Benac said.

Finding the funding

The 2016 special-purpose local-option sales tax project for the library in Birrell's district was short of funding to start the year, and there were concerns it would be delayed to a future SPLOST cycle without the requisite funds to move forward.

That was avoided with last week's commission's vote, which gave the go-ahead to an agreement with contractor Batson-Cook for $9,147,500, on top of an original contract of about $700,000 for initial design and planning work.

The push to fully fund a project more than six years in the making has been slowed in part by rising construction and labor costs, Birrell said, though Cobb Libraries Director Helen Poyer noted in January that the original SPLOST budget would not be enough to cover the 1970s-era building's replacement.

However, the vote demonstrated the diverse set of funding sources Stalcup and his team were able to string together for the money to fund the project.

Of the $9 million for the project, just over $6 million remains from the 2016 SPLOST funding for the library.

On top of that, $1.26 million will come from the 2022 SPLOST for construction of the Northeast Cobb Community Center, part of SPLOST-funded improvements to Shaw Park, which is adjacent to the library. The center will be housed in the library, a result, in the words of Birrell, of "creative thinking" on the part of county staff to find the money for the rebuild.

Another unexpected funding source was the county's American Rescue Plan Act funding, $1 million of which will go toward the rebuild due to a commitment from CobbWorks to build a "Workforce Access Point" in the library.

"They will have a setup there for people to come in to job search and do resumes and placement, and that will be for the whole community, not just the area around Gritters," Birrell said.

The CobbWorks space, as well as the community center, will make the library an asset beyond its local area, Birrell added, as all residents of the county can benefit from those spaces.

Chairwoman Lisa Cupid praised Birrell for her work in pursuing additional funding for the project.

"This would not have happened without your fierce advocacy, Commissioner Birrell, and steadfastness," Cupid said during the commission meeting. "I know a number of citizens in District 3 are grateful for this action today."

While Birrell did not give a start date for construction, she noted ground has already been broken at the site, and with the contract approved, construction can begin at any time.

"I'm really excited, the community's really excited, so it'll be great once it's all done," Birrell said.