By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Librarian Courtney McNiel arrived on the scene to head Hempstead County’s library system in January 2011. Fast forward, eight years later to February 2019, and McNiel and her staff received an exceptional anniversary gift in the form of a new $2.5 million, 12,000 square foot library, which opened for the public Tuesday morning.
Through an otherwise rainy, cold and cloudy Tuesday, McNiel was glowing like sunshine as she showed off the new building to visitors. McNiel called the new library “a dream come true.”
From July 2017 groundbreaking to Tuesday’s opening of the world-class facility, McNiel said the concept of the new library had been in the works for several years, dating back to her arrival in 2011.
“It may have seemed like a short time from 2017 to now, but this new library has been in the works for years, ever since I’ve been here. I am happy to see it finally opened, and I believe the public will be pleased,” McNiel said.
Featuring the entire north side forming a wall of windows, letting in natural ambient light, the facility presents a modern and spacious design that is ADA compliant. McNiel credited architect Jerry Hollensworth of the Magnolia-based firm Trull and Hollensworth with its visionary design. The work was done by Contech Contractors out of Texarkana.
Although there was not a formal groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, maybe fortunate due to the inclement weather, McNiel did say a grand-opening event will be held sometime in the near future, after the old library, which sits directly adjacent to the new one, is torn down.
“Right now, they are in the process of abatement to clear out asbestos, which will take about two weeks, but after that the plan will be for the old library to be taken down, and the new parking lot for the new library will be there,” she said.
The old library was approximately 7,000 square feet, making the new facility almost double that at 12,000 square feet. McNiel said all five of the existing full-time staff will continue working the new building, and she said all of the original books from the old library were hand-carted over.
The $2.5 million cost, comparable to the construction of Hempstead Hall in recent years, was covered by a split between the Campbell donation fund for $1.4 million and $1.1 million from the library itself, through the existing taxpayer millage. Unlike Hempstead Hall, the library did not have a special “sunshine tax” or a dedicated bond issue as many public projects do.
“I credit the vision of my board. This was funded through existing tax dollars and savings over many, many years,” McNiel said.
“I want to thank the board for making this possible and for supporting me in allowing this vision to happen. I also want to thank my staff for all their handwork in getting everything together, and I want to thank the citizens of Hempstead County for their patience and support,” she said.
The Hempstead County Library Board includes Chairman Jerry Pruden, Vice-Chair Judy Davis, Catherine Cook, who is also the Hope City Manager, John Hays and Juan Rivera. Credited as “Major Library Benefactors” are Dr. and Mrs. G.E. Cannon and Milton D. and Mary C. Campbell.