The last time Georgia state Rep. Jay Neal saw LaFayette's new library, the spot was nothing but a shell at the end of a street of government buildings.
Now, a year later, the bricks are in place and the inside is taking form, a potpourri of wires, concrete and boards. Construction workers, including Georgia Department of Correction inmates, work hurriedly for a fall opening of the building, which was a decade in the making and will cost nearly $4 million.
On Friday, Neal and a group of other library boosters, regional librarians and legislators toured the almost-completed LaFayette-Walker County Regional Library. They peered over the architect's shoulder at plans: 85 parking spots, an increase from 60; 29,000 square feet of space, an increase from 20,000; 18 computer lab stations and 12 laptops, both an increase from years before.
Here, said architect Jack Killian of Killian Clark Partnership, will be the large children's area. The entrance will be covered in artificial trees being made by an art class at the local high school. The light will appear as if it was filtered through forest cover.
There, he said, will be private study rooms and community meeting rooms.
Across the way, a computer lab and a business center. Right now, there is no place in LaFayette where people can go to print, fax and copy.
Down that back hallway, they hope to put in a coffee shop. Maybe Starbucks will come, he said.
"It's something that people can be proud of," said Neal. "It adds aesthetically to the community. ... A library isn't just about books."
Years before, the same library had few windows, cramped space and street parking. There was no place designated for teens. Children didn't have areas to play and run.
After 18 months of construction, the change is astonishing, said Lecia Eubanks, director of the Cherokee Regional Library System, which will be housed in the new building.
"It's hard to believe," she said, looking toward the front door. "I just almost can't picture it."
Eubanks said LaFayette pushed for 10 years to get a new library and then waited three years after the project was approved by the state before construction was actually funded.
The library is and will be a community hub, she said, especially for those without home computers or Internet access, especially for students who need a quiet place to go, and especially for parents looking to entertain their toddlers.
But state and local resources for this library and others continue to plummet, said Eubanks.
Last year, her staffing was cut 17 percent. The library no longer has any full- time employees. The regional system employs only four people.
That is the one disappointment with fanfare over the new library. There will be all these computers and books and programs, but nowhere near enough people to man them, she said.
In November, she has been assured by state officials that the ballot will include a poll question about whether or not to help the Cherokee Regional Library System by giving the system $250,000. Walker County residents will vote.
"It's surreal, to be physically building while our budgets have been torn down," she said. "We will just hope for better times."
Contact staff writer Joan Garrett McClane at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6601. Follow her on Twitter at @JoanGarrettCTFP.