City DopeNews

Inflation Hits Eastside Library and Other ACC Construction Projects

Rising construction costs are shrinking the size of a planned Eastside library, Athens-Clarke County commissioners learned at a work session last week.

The $16 million project—$14 million from SPLOST 2020 and $2 million from a state grant—includes a $7.5 million construction budget. Originally, the library was supposed to be 25,000 square feet, but now there’s only enough money to build 16,000. A 25,000 square-foot library would cost $22 million. “There’s obviously a gap there between what we originally planned for and what we have here today,” John Simoneau of the ACC SPLOST office said at the Sept. 13 work session.

“Must have” elements for the new library include 50,000 books, childrens’ and young adult areas, a divisible meeting room, and transit and pedestrian connectivity. For a site, the user group is looking at demographics, population density and proximity to schools. Preferably, the site would already be owned by ACC to save money. The downsized library would be designed so that it could easily be expanded later, Simoneau said.

Two potential sites that have been mentioned in the past are Southeast Clarke Park and the old Gaines School, although the latter was recently renovated for use as an early learning center. “I’m wondering if it’s possibly in the cards to purchase an existing building and adaptively reuse it,” Commissioner Melissa Link suggested. 

Public engagement sessions are scheduled for 10 a.m.–12 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 at Fire Station No. 7, and 10 a.m.–12 p.m. at Living Hope Church and 5 p.m.–7 p.m. at East Athens Development Corp. on Monday, Oct. 3. The commission is scheduled to vote Nov. 1 on a project concept and site selection criteria.

The new library isn’t the only government project that’s affected by higher construction costs. The budget for a new downtown judicial center to replace the overcrowded county courthouse and renovate the existing courthouse to serve as a municipal government building has risen from $78 million to $140 million, prompting SPLOST officials to suggest scaling it back for now and adding onto it later.

“The [cost] escalation is hitting us at a time when we’re starting on some of the biggest public works projects we’ve ever had,” Manager Blaine Williams said at another work session Sept. 15.

Public input sessions on the judicial center are scheduled for 5–7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29 and 1–3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Dougherty Street Governmental Building.

Officials also discussed a $27 million parking deck for the new Classic Center arena. The 600-space deck would serve not only the arena, but also the judicial center and a nearby hotel, condominiums and a senior living development, all on county-owned land surrounding the Multimodal Transportation Center off East Broad Street. 

The Classic Center also agreed that the 600 jobs the arena project and surrounding developments will create will pay a living wage of at least $15.85, indexed to an MIT living wage calculator. Wages have long been a sticking point for some commissioners to support the project.