GRETNA — Approaching the Gretna library’s young adult reading section, Pittsylvania County library director Lisa Tuite looked at the rows of book spines then gestured to her right.
A single window seat offered the only space available for a young person interested in a book to sit and read in that section.
Currently, the space available to house books is cramped, packed with as many features the branch could. Rows of DVDs, CDs and books — both print and audio — take up the majority of the 2,700-square-foot space with desktop computer stations lining the walls where possible.
But within the next few years, Tuite and the library system’s board of trustees is aiming to leverage the county’s proposed $157,600 contribution to raise around half a million dollars to renovate the 6,375-square-foot building to better use the space.
The Gretna location is the only branch serving residents in the northern end of the county. While Tuite noted they want to open a new branch in the Staunton River and Banister districts, that isn’t an option as a short-term solution to improving library access in the northern region.
The expenses associated with outfitting or potentially constructing a new building greatly exceeds that of renovating a branch that already exists.
“The key is that this is such a target of opportunity,” said Tuite, the floor plans for a renovated Gretna library laid out on a table next to her. “We already own this building, and we are not making the best use of the space.”
The renovation of the interior would allow them to knock down walls to create a larger, more unified library space.
When the building opened more than 20 years ago, it was divided in half — one side was the library and a Danville Community College outpost on the other. It was meant to be a one-stop shop for services.
Though the idea was well-intentioned, Gretna library branch manager Adrian Badgett said it never took off as much as the leaders at the time hoped.
When DCC moved out of the building in 2015, Tuite said its portion of the building automatically reverted to the library’s property. However, the current layout has inhibited that wing from becoming a cohesive part of the branch.
For the past couple years, the largest room on the side that formerly hosted DCC has been a multipurpose room. Badgett said they held exercise group classes and its summer program in that room.
In the future site plan, the circulation desk greets library patrons in the front of the building. Then they will walk past to find bookshelves on both sides of the building with adult literature to the left — where the DCC wing was — and the young adult and children’s sections will have more space to the right — where all of the library’s inventory is currently housed.
Plus, they’re trying to plan for at least two private tutoring rooms, a computer lab and conference room.
“Now that we have the opportunity to open this up, we have the space for a computer or a meeting spot,” said Badgett, noting that a lot of the local groups don’t have free space available for meetings.
Tuite said the new floor plan would make the space less cramped and offer more seating to its visitors, more than doubling the library space.
“You want when they come to the library for it to be as inviting of a facility as you can make it,” said Tuite.
Libraries provide the community more than just access to books, the pair explained. It offers free internet and computer access, faxing services and a wide range of programming for residents of all ages.
Badgett said the library has programs daily, from helping people with their taxes and offering one-on-one computer assistance to hosting story time and home school connection events for kids.
“We’ve even caught on to the slime craze,” Badgett said with a laugh, adding that the parents are often lost while making the gooey creation with their children.
Last year, 78,000 books were checked out of the Gretna library, which is its circulation, not including digital downloads. Overall, the county’s library system had a circulation of 407,000, including digital.
“We have a good base of people, and they definitely do enjoy their library,” said Badgett.
The board of supervisors’ finance committee voted Tuesday that county funding for the renovation is contingent on a change in legislation requiring the county to contribute $78,800 to the Pittsylvania County Service Authority each year. If that legislation is changed before the end of the fiscal year, then that money will be moved from the contingency line into the reserves for capital projects for the library.
That $78,800 would be designated for the library for both 2019-20 and 2020-21 to bring the county’s contribution up to a total of $157,600.
Without that contribution, Tuite said the library wouldn’t be able to raise the rest of the funds.
“If the county does not have skin in the game, we cannot raise money,” she said.
Tuite continued, “We will bring a lot of other money to this and give them a beautiful facility. … This is a very small ask for a very big return for the county.”
Halle Parker reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at email@example.com or (434) 791-7981.