VALDOSTA – The Mae Wisenbaker McMullen Memorial Southside Library is getting its biggest upgrade in 30-plus years, but it needs the community’s help to get there.

The upgrade — a more than $2 million renovation — will include a new meeting room, new study rooms, a family room and more parking lot spaces.

Rob Evans, president of IPG, Inc., said the renovation will bring the library to the 21st century. Evans presented the plans in full depth starting with the meeting rooms.

“That meeting room can be for 70-100 people, so that would really allow for some great space,” he said. “It would also allow us to then take that furniture in that space, when we need to, and put it in the walls. Then you’ve got a really nice open space for special events.”

It would also include a porch area where library visitors could have conversations outside, making it a “break-out area” separate from those inside, Evans said.

The “young adults” section will have a glass wall separating it from the rest of the library. It will also have a new lounge with “comfortable” seating, a modified new arrivals display and an open view of other areas of the library.

Four new study rooms will be added, featured with magnetic, whiteboard walls and computer stations.

The big ticket item of the presentation is the addition of 28-30 new parking spaces, addressing a longstanding issue for the library.

Dr. Beverly Richardson-Blake, fundraising committee chair for the South Georgia Regional Library Board, said anyone that’s been to any library activities knows the struggles the building faces with parking.

“We’ve had people park over here, we’ve had people park at the church, we’ve had people parked up and down the road, and have had to call the police and Lowndes County Sheriff’s (Office) to direct traffic so that no one is hit,” she said.

The library has run out of space — there currently being only 25 or so parking spaces — and it needs to move forward with more, Richardson-Blake said.

Miguel Vicente, South Georgia Regional Library director, said during his closing remarks, the renovation’s plans started off with the idea of having more space. It’s something library board and staff have noticed for years.

“We know we needed the space, so we’ve tried to, over the years, say there were only so many programs we can have in that space,” Richardson-Blake said.

It started with that and expanded from that. Right now, things are at a sort of impasse because $500,000 is needed to finish the project.

Helen Mitchell, SGRL business manager, gave a financial overview, detailing the renovation’s current fund balance.

The project has $400,000 to use from the SGRL fund, $175,000 from the SPLOST funds (which is available starting Jan. 1, 2022) and is awaiting to hear back about $1 million from a grant.

The grant is through the Georgia Public Library Service which will provide $900,000 given the library can provide 10% of matching funds — $100,000.

“If we’re able to get this, the availability of spending it would start July 1, 2022,” Mitchell said. “We really need to talk to our representatives so that that money is earmarked for us.”

Mitchell said SGRL is relying on the community for the remaining $500,000. It may seem like a large number, but it can happen, Richardson-Blake said.

“That happens with $5 donations, that happens with $100 donations, that happens with $100,000 donations,” she said. “We need your help in getting these funds.”

Richardson-Blake asked the crowd to imagine what the library can have versus what the library has already.

The current meeting room can maybe fit 50 people if they all “love each other,” as she said, meaning they’re all squished together. There are no designated areas for young adults, forcing them into a small section of the library.

Even with the new quiet rooms/study rooms, imagine sending kids into those rooms with a tutor to work with them in areas that may not be their strength at school, Richardson-Blake said.

That’s an invaluable thing to do, especially given schooling the past year.

“With virtual learning, we’ve learned that learning has not taken place,” she said. “Those kids need some place to come and we can give them that space.”

Vicente said the library is a provider of education and a provider of opportunity, therefore its features need to reflect that.

Education is the solution for many human challenges and reliable information becomes a superpower on that front.

“For people, when they come into the library, this is what they get — reliable information,” Vicente said.

SGRL’s mission is to reach the light of every member of the community, he said, and that mission is shown even with library staff saying “good morning,” or “how can I help you?”

He said library board and staff want to better the library for the community, Vicente said, and they want to make it a better place for 50 to 100 years from now.

“You love this place and together, we’re going to transform (it),” he said. “We’re going to make it better, not for us, (but) we’re going to make it better for the future, for the children (and) young adults.”

Vicente said SGRL wants to start construction late 2022, so people have about seven to eight months to donate to the renovation.

People can donate online at sgrl.org/support-us/donations and can also physically donate via checks payable to SGRL with “Southside Addition/Renovation” on the memo line. Mail it to South Georgia Regional Library at 2906 Julia Drive, Valdosta, Ga. 31602.

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