January 15, 2022
With a simple snip of the scissors Friday morning, the Aiken County Public Library officially marked its grand opening as it nears the end of a two-year renovation project.
Those who were intimately involved with the project know it was anything but easy. But, the end result is spectacular and should serve our community well for years to come.
Credit flowed from the library’s front stairs as county officials praised the work of Bill Reynolds, who spearheaded the project as president of Friends of the Aiken County Public Library, and Mary Jo Dawson, director of the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library System.
“Credit goes to the taxpayers and Friends of the Library,” said Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, who also noted the project stayed on budget and on time. “This is your project. This is your county library.”
Andrew Siders, vice chairman of county council, noted the building’s history as a former school building before becoming a library. It’s “a big part of our past,” he said.
Indeed, many generations of Aikenites have experienced the building as either a classroom or library. With its central downtown location, many children would walk or ride their bikes to get there.
McMillan Pazdan Smith did the architecture work on the approximately $3 million project. J.E. Stewart Builders Inc. is the contractor that was tasked with renovating a structure that was first built in 1891. A second wing was added in 1913.
The last significant renovation of the library occurred in 1990, but information and technology have changed a lot since then. The renovations reflect those changes and will better accommodate the library’s usage by the public.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the first phase of the refurbishment was held in January 2020. That was right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Carolina. Still, work continued and the steep front steps, which caused much consternation, were torn down and replaced.
The second floor of the library was modernized and reopened to the public in mid-2021.
The first floor now has new furniture and technology, and a new elevator is operational.
According to Friends of the Library, the improvements also include a state-of-the-art conference room for meetings; two more self-study rooms and six additional computer stations; and six big screen televisions for educational use.
Reynolds, in his remarks, thanked three groups: 1) the Aiken community for its patience and generosity; 2) Dawson and the library staff for putting up with water dripping from the ceiling, dust getting in computers and bathrooms not working during the renovations; and 3) the project team as a whole.
Dawson noted that renovating a 19th century building in the midst of a global pandemic was a challenge at times.
“It wasn’t always an easy experience, but it was a grand success,” she said.
All parties, including Aiken County government, deserve a big round of applause for how this public-private partnership turned out.
“The community is going to get so much out of this,” Reynolds said.
A more formal celebration is planned for later this year, but in the meantime we encourage all to visit the library and “check out” the new features, if not some books or DVDs.