UNION — The dream of the “historic restoration” of the Union County Carnegie Library took another step towards reality with a ground-breaking ceremony Thursday afternoon.
The ceremony, which was held on the grounds of the library, formally kicked off the restoration program which Library Director Rieta Drinkwine told those in attendance would not only restore the original, historic section of the library, but also modernize the facility as a whole to make it an even more integral part of the community.
“Through many meetings, discussions, and hard work we have come up with a plan for an inclusive, adaptive facility that will both celebrate and serve Union for many years, focused on addressing many community needs,” Drinkwine said. “This space will include a historic restoration of the original 1905 structure, which will honor Union’s history. There will also be meeting spaces and study rooms, as well as partnership spaces for collaborating, making the library an integral community hub.
“Lastly, the lower level will be finished in order to incorporate expanded children’s and teen’s spaces, featuring an early learning resource center in collaboration with First Steps, to help us better serve our youngest patrons and their families,” she said. “All of these new spaces will allow us to provide a broader range of services, and ensure that there are necessary spaces for all residents to be successful.”
The project is expected to cost $1.8 million of which the library has raised $1.6 million, including a $1.25 million allocation from the State Lottery Fund. The state allocation was secured for the library by State Rep. Mike Anthony and State Sen. Harvey Peeler in a collaborative effort that not only included getting the funding in the state budget and getting it passed by both houses of the SC General Assembly, but also overcoming its veto by then Gov. Nikki Haley.
Anthony and Peeler both attended Thursday’s ceremony and both of them spoke, with Anthony talking about their efforts to secure state funding for the project and “the unique way it happened.” Anthony said that Peeler was able to get it put in the budget and that the two of them then worked together on the conference committee that made sure it stayed in the budget. He said he worked to get the final bill passed in the SC House of Representatives while Peeler worked to get it passed in the SC Senate.
When it got to Haley’s desk, however, she vetoed it, meaning that the funding would be eliminated from the budget if she was not overridden by both houses of the legislature. It was overridden, however, after Anthony said he and Peeler both appealed to their colleagues, citing the historic nature of the library, its importance to the community, and the national reputation it has achieved.
“We made a huge request of our friends to get it overridden,” Anthony said. “We pointed out that it was named the number one small library in the nation in 2009. We pointed out that over 60,000 people come through these doors in a year.”
Anthony said he and Peeler also stressed the services the library provides the community such as Internet access for those who do not have it. In the end they prevailed and overwhelmingly so, with Anthony pointing out that in the SC House the vote was 106-0 in favor of override. He added, however, that none of this would have been possible without the vital role that Peeler played.
When he spoke, Peeler recalled how that the collaborative efforts of Anthony and himself predate their efforts to secure funding for the library’s restoration project. Peeler said that he and Anthony worked together to prevent then Gov. Mark Sanford from shutting down USC Union. He said that when Sanford first proposed this “Mike and I decided we needed to join forces” and proceeded to work together to convince their colleagues to prevent Sanford from closing USC Union, showing them that not only would it be a terrible blow to Union County, but also to the USC system and to South Carolina as a whole.
As a result of Peeler and Anthony’s efforts, USC Union was still open when Sanford left the governor’s mansion and remains open to this day.
In his address, Peeler called the Carnegie Library “the crown jewel of the community” and pointed out that it plays an important role in attracting tourists to Union County, in helping facilitate economic development, and providing vitally needed educational programs for the youth of the community. Already a source of pride, Peeler said that restoration project will make the library something the people of Union County can be even more proud of, serving as a center of the community and helping educate generations of young people to come.
Just prior to the actual groundbreaking, Drinkwine returned to the podium to discuss about what the restoration project represents.
“I’d like to once again thank our esteemed guests and all the members of the community who have joined us today to celebrate this historic groundbreaking,” Drinkwine said. “Although our work is far from done, this is a tremendous step forward.
“It represents more than the start of a long-awaited remodeling and expansion project, it represents a new vision for what a library can bring to the community and how important the community is to the library,” she said. “This new, inclusive facility will be dedicated to helping Union County rise, and together we’re creating a beautiful and practical space that will make us all proud and will serve our community for generations to come.”
Drinkwine then announced that the Union County Carnegie Library “will be the kick off location for the traveling Smithsonian exhibit ‘Crossroads in Rural America’ in September 2018. The exhibit, which is coming to us through South Carolina Humanities, will be featured in the restored, historic portion of the library.”
In order to facilitate the project, the library will temporarily relocate to the old Graham Cash Building on Main Street in downtown Union. While the relocation process is under way, the library will be closed from Dec. 4-Jan. 1.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.