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A Library Grows in Harlem

June 13, 2017
This article appeared in the June 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Harlem city officials and state leaders hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for residents and excited patrons.

The city of Harlem and surrounding Columbia County have experienced significant population growth for several years, a trend that is expected to continue due to continued development in nearby Fort Gordon and Augusta. With new growth come new challenges, opportunities and above all—change. For examples of this process, look no further than Harlem’s library. Having outgrown a 145-year-old historic home of 1,500 square feet, the library’s 18,000 titles and eight computers are no longer adequate for the needs of the community. In 2005, the city made the first of two property purchases through the Harlem Foundation and entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the county. A new 13,000-square-foot, two-story building surrounded by greenspace, an outdoor performance venue and parking will replace sagging floors and other structurally unsafe features. The new facility will be able to store 60,000 titles, and users will have access to 40 computers for research. Also, the second story of the building will be a meeting space that operates independently of library hours. The grand opening for the facility is scheduled for July 1.

According to city officials, the key to managing a project of this magnitude is cooperation. With a price tag of $5.5 million, the library was financed with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds and a grant by the Georgia Public Library System. Officials from Harlem, Columbia County as well as Rep. Barry Fleming and Sen. Bill Jackson, all played a role in realizing a development that is now “so much more than a library,” according to Harlem Mayor Bobby Culpepper.

The building and its surroundings offer a new place for the community to come together and are already having an impact on other parts of downtown. Next door to the library, a $1 million investment will restore the county’s first movie theater, the Columbia Theatre, to serve as a visitor center and museum, while a private developer is renovating a 5,900-square-foot commercial building. Throw in plans for a new elementary school, and it becomes obvious that Harlem is well-prepared to manage and accept growth as the new normal.