Aiken County Public Library celebrates major renovation with ribbon-cutting ceremony

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Dede Biles

Aiken Standard

Friends of the Aiken County Public Library President Bill Reynolds, foreground left, talks to attendees Friday morning following a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Aiken County Public Library, where a major renovation is nearing completion.

 

Two years and a few days after a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the multimillion-dollar renovation project at the Aiken County Public Library, there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the front steps of the media and information center.

More than 70 people attended the Friday morning event, including U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Even though the work isn’t quite completed, both the library’s first and second floors are open to the public again, so the time was appropriate for the refurbished facility’s official debut.

There were four speakers, and what they had to say included a lot of thank yous.

Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker described the public-private partnership that generated the funding for the makeover as a “great, successful” collaboration.

The county agreed to provide $2 from Capital Project Sales Tax revenue for every $1 the Friends of the Aiken County Public Library contributed.

There also was financial support from individual donors, much of it raised by a Friends of the Library capital campaign.

The cost of the facelift is approximately $3 million.

“This project was not a simple project,” Bunker said. “Any kind of renovation project, as most of you know, is much more difficult, by its very nature, than a greenfield project, when you’re building something from the ground up.”

Even so, “we managed to keep this project on schedule to the end,” Bunker continued. “We managed to keep it within the budget, with contingencies, to the end. And we managed to minimize scope creep, which is when you just keep adding more and more and more.”

All those involved in the library’s modernization worked together in a “very rational, very cooperative manner,” Bunker also said.

Then he added, “I sincerely hope that how we did this project as a community will be a model for future jointly funded projects across Aiken County and in the towns in Aiken County.”

The library, which is at 314 Chesterfield St. S.W. in Aiken, is in one of the two wings of a brick building. The construction of the first wing was finished in 1891, and the second wing was added in 1913.

“This building is a big part of our past,” said County Council Vice Chairman Andrew Siders, who represents District 7, where the library is located.

Now, because of the renovation, the media and information center is “a big part of our future,” he declared.

When Bunker introduced Bill Reynolds, he told the crowd that without the Friends of the Library president’s leadership, “this project would not have happened.”

Reynolds then offered his perspective on the library’s overhaul.

“It has been a pleasure watching the community come together for the success of this project,” Reynolds said.

Mary Jo Dawson, director of the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library System, was the final speaker, and she also cut the red ribbon.

“Every project provides an opportunity for learning,” Dawson said. “What I have learned from this experience is that it takes a lot of patience, cooperation and courage to renovate a 19th century building while occupying and operating it in the midst of a global pandemic.

“I am not a courageous person by nature, so I am grateful for all of these wonderful stakeholders and team members that have been thanked today because all of you gave myself and our library the courage to undertake this. I think it has been a grand success.”

Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony, attendees were invited to go inside the library and see the improvements for themselves.

J. David Jameson, president and CEO of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce, told the Aiken Standard that a library “is a very important quality-of-life feature for any community and it speaks loudly on a day like this when you celebrate a refreshed building that the community has supported, the government has supported and that everybody is behind.

“It tees us up for a great future,” he concluded.

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