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Library entering final stage of renovation process
 lmcdonald  / 

Books are back on the shelves.

Marshes of Glynn Libraries staff began the process Monday of returning the 51,000-item collection at the Brunswick library to the shelves. The library is entering the final stages of a massive renovation, which began six months ago and is scheduled to wrap up by April.

Cleaners are going over the facility now, and Reads Moving System workers installed the recently redone shelving on Monday. The workers will return next week to install reader tables and chairs, which have been refinished.

The tall shelves have been cut down, re-welded and powder-coated by prisoners at the Walker State Prison. The shorter shelves contribute to a more open feel in the newly-renovated library space, letting in more natural light from the tall windows that face Gloucester St.

The renovated building features highlights of the original 1975 design and the most recent 2003 renovation, said Geri Mullis, director of Marshes of Glynn Libraries. Exposed ceiling from the 1975 construction is featured in the new design.

“I still can’t pick what is my favorite change,” said Mullis, walking through the library Monday as cleaners, subcontractors, construction workers and library staff carried on with the renovation work. “… We were able to do so much on such a limited budget.”

She credited the contractors, Benning Construction, and the architects, McMillan Pazden Smith.

Marshes of Glynn Libraries is being touted by others for its impressive budgeting for the project. The construction budget ended up being $85 per square foot, Mullis said, and the overall budget that includes furniture came in at $113 per square foot.

“There was a lot of value engineering,” Mullis said.

The interior design theme is industrial, in connection with the Port of Brunswick nearby.

Few of the original interior walls remain standing. The main hallway has been straightened, and a new entrance is now located closer to the center of the building’s front.

The old front door now sits in the corner of a large new conference room space that can fit up to 400 seats. Divider walls will be available to break up the meeting space in multiple sections.

“When we did our facilities master plan in 2014, one of the things that the public and our partners all wanted was more flexible meeting space,” Mullis said.

The library plans to begin renting the conference room out in May. A catering kitchen is attached to the conference space. The kitchen leads into a hallway with storage space and a back exit with a ramp onto Bay Street.

Before the renovation, the library did not offer a kitchen for public use during events. The facility couldn’t open for events after hours. A gate is now installed over the interior entrance to the library collection, allowing staff to close that area off during after-hours events.

The staff’s offices are now all together in the same space, rather than scattered around the facility as the offices were before.

Furniture will be moved into the facility later this month.

In the main library, a larger circulation desk — covered at the moment with building plans, boxes and paperwork — sits in the center of the open area near the entrance. Two self-check desks will also be available.

“You’ll be able to pick up your own holds now,” Mullis said.

Four study rooms will be available for free, on a first come, first serve basis.

“That was something else that we got a lot of requests for in that facilities master planning process, was to have space that was quiet space or space to be able to talk,” Mullis said.

The Brunswick library will open again with regular hours and services at the end of March or beginning of April. An official opening date has not been set yet.

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for First Friday on April 5. Local band Tonic Blue will perform in the new conference room space, and artist Mandy Thompson will display her work in an exhibit and hide painted rocks around the library. Nancy Raines Day will read her latest book, and pirate crafts for children will be offered.

“And we will be open, so the library will be actually open and checking out books,” Mullis said.

The St. Simons library location continues to be fully operational, as it has been throughout the renovation.

“All fines and fees will be waived. Nobody has to worry about that,” Mullis said. “We’ve changed the due date for the end of the month.”

Book drops are not available right now at the Brunswick library, and the phone services are down.

Turning the Page, a giving campaign for the Brunswick library renovation, is still underway. Those wishing to donate can contact Mullis at 912-279-3734 or

Since the beginning, it’s been the generous donations and strong support from many in the community that made the renovation possible, Mullis said.

“We’ve been working towards this goal since 2014, and really when we became Marshes of Glynn in 2013 we knew we need something,” she said. “But I do have to say, if it weren’t for our state legislators, the Glynn County Commissioners and the library board, we would never have been able to do this and offer this expanded service to the public.”

The books have been stored in the children’s room throughout the renovation. All items have been cleaned, and library staff are now returning the books to their rightful place.

“The first book that went on the shelf, I’m like — ‘They’re back. Hello, beauties,’” Mullis said.

Plans for community resource center moving forward
 lmcdonald  / 

The most recent planning meeting for the Community of Hope project focused significantly on making sure community members who will use the new resource center are involved in the planning process.

“When we take individuals out of the planning process, then the planning doesn’t represent the individuals,” said Jeff Clark, a Safe Harbor housing advocate involved in the planning group for the Community of Hope project, during a meeting Feb. 28.

The project, which is being led by the Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority, aims to create a community resource center located in the historic Risley buildings on Albany Street in Brunswick.

The center will offer a wide variety of services, including child care, early education programs, job training, adult education, transportation and more.

“We are looking not only to make a change right there at the location itself but in the entire surrounding community,” said Tres Hamilton, CEO of Community Action Authority. “We want to affect a positive change in the community as a whole.”

Work began last year on the project. Representatives from many local nonprofits and agencies have come together to bring this proposed idea to fruition. At the planning meeting Thursday, though, many emphasized the need to ensure that residents of the neighborhood in which the center will be located have a voice in the planning discussions.

“As nonprofits, we’re notorious – our hearts are in the right place – but we’re notorious for telling everybody what it is that they need,” Hamilton said. “And oftentimes, more times than not, we are off center when we do that.”

Members of the Risley Alumni Association, whose main office is located on the historic Risley campus, took part in the meeting Thursday and will be involved in the project moving forward.

The resource center will be located in the heart of one of Glynn County’s poorest neighborhoods.

“While in Glynn County as a whole, which includes Sea Island and St. Simons and Jekyll, 30 percent of our children live in poverty — in that particular track 78 percent of the children live in poverty,” said Melinda Ennis-Roughton, executive director of Family Connection Glynn County. “… That is the high poverty area of Glynn County.”

The center will include office space for the many nonprofits and other groups in Glynn County that provide support and services for families, including Family Connection, Goodwill, Safe Harbor, Coastal Coalition for Children, United Way and more.

The Community of Hope project is multi-faceted, and committees have been established for each focus area including, education and affordable child care, economic self-sufficiency and sustainability, trauma-informed care, arts programming and transportation.

The center will be a hub for education and child care programs, said Ennis-Roughton, who leads the education and affordable child care committee. Her committee hopes to establish a second local Early Headstart location at the center, as the current one offers only 40 slots for students. The group also has plans to create a business-subsidized child care program and for a drop-in child care center.

“Big vision dreams, but you’ve got to dream big to make things happen,” Ennis-Roughton said.

Jim Frasche, who leads the economic self-sufficiency and sustainability committee, has plans to establish a community garden and onsite café. Those programs will not only provide healthy food options to the neighborhood, located in a food desert, but will also create revenue to help cover operation costs of the community center.

“We would like to provide these services and support and output in a sustainable, financially supportive way to the organization, rather than providing another cost center to the operation,” Frasche said.

The arts committee plans to incorporate arts education into the other programs offered at the center. The group has also begun a mural project and expects to have the six murals created in Brunswick in the next six months.

“Part of the mural program will also involve the community itself, so we’re looking at some grants that can actually have the community come in and paint on the murals in their neighborhood and have input into what those murals look like for their neighborhood,” said Susan Ryles, executive director of Glynn Visual Arts.

The lack of public transportation in Glynn County, an ongoing barrier to low-income residents in this area, is also a focus of the Community of Hope project. Dominique Mack, community services director for Community Action Authority, said the committee has discussed a transportation program that can take people to jobs, doctors’ appointments and more.

Volunteers called “Community of Hope Ambassadors” could ride the buses and aid in picking up and dropping off riders who need assistance, Mack said.

Rita Spalding, agency attorney for Community Action Authority, gave an update on the status of the transfer of the Risley property from its current owner, the Glynn County Board of Education.

“Right now the school board owns it,” Spalding said. “The plan is for the school board to convey it to the agency, to the Community of Hope, for $1. And then we would have our activities there. If we cease activities there, it goes right back to the school board.”

The Community of Hope group is still in a “due diligence” period, to make sure it can afford all repairs on the building.

“We will have to have an MOU for each different entity that is appropriate and specific, based on how often they’ll be there, based on what services that will be provided,” Spalding said. “And we will also have to be very attentive to the insurance concerns.”

The idea is for agencies to share the costs to operate the center, including power bills, security costs and all types of insurance required.

“We’re nonprofits, so we know that line items and budgets are very tight,” Hamilton said.

Houses demolished on Cumberland Island
 gjackson  / 

A house illegally built on Cumberland Island by Camden County jail inmates in 2007 has been demolished, along with other structures on the property.

The home was nearly completed on a tract leased by Ben Jenkins when the National Park Service officials from the regional office in Atlanta learned a structure was under construction without their knowledge and no building permit from the county.

Jenkins told investigators the house was intended as a vacation home for paralyzed patients from the Shepherd Center, a spinal clinic in Atlanta. He was later convicted of criminal contempt in federal court for defying a judge’s order to stop construction of the home, but he was not sentenced to jail because he was 88 years old and in frail health.

The controversy surrounding the home also led to the firing of Jerre Brumbelow, the national seashore’s superintendent at the time, and the ouster of longtime sheriff Bill Smith, who had held office more than two decades.

The property has remained abandoned since the retained right expired in 2010. The retained rights agreements were reached when the national seashore was established in 1972.

Some people negotiated agreements that would allow their property to stay in the family until the death of the youngest living heir at the time. Others, including owners of the tract where Jenkins lived, negotiated an agreement to vacate their property in 2010.

The property will be allowed to revert to its natural state.

Other structures impacted by the expiration of the retained rights include Toonahowie and Nancy’s Fancy, where the structures are to be removed.

The Grange is currently being maintained and repaired as funds are available, and further repair and rehabilitation are needed before the building is used for park operations and visitor services.

The Phillips and Stafford Beach houses will be used by house park personnel. Repairs and rehabilitation are necessary before the Goodsell house can be used to house park personnel.

The Henderson house is unoccupied, and the future status is yet to be determined. And the Bullard house is unoccupied and likely to be removed because of its location in the wilderness.

‘Religious freedom’ bill indefinitely delayed
 wwolfe  / 

Another attempt at a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act, filed last week and scheduled for consideration Monday in a state Senate committee, may not get considered this year thanks to its sponsor asking for and receiving an indefinite delay on a hearing.

State Sen. Marty Harbin, R- Tyrone, submitted Senate Bill 221 on Wednesday. By the time it came around to a hearing Monday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the meeting — scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. — was already creeping into the afternoon with nearly two hours spent on other legislation.

“For three years or more, we have been dealing with the issue, and my presentation this morning — or this afternoon, as you would tell me — is probably 20-25 minutes to really deal with the comparison of the federal law versus the state law of RFRA,” Harbin said.

Committee Chairman Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro, told Harbin there was still a substantial audience at the hearing, but Harbin said a number of people had already left, and that he would like to work to see if there was another opportunity to present the bill.

“I think that would be a wise decision,” Stone said.

In a media scrum following the hearing, Harbin said he still hoped the bill could be heard before the crossover deadline this week.

“I can’t tell you — as Indiana Jones said, ‘I’m making it up as I go,’” Harbin said. “I’m going to find a way, if I can, to try to make it happen.”

In a subsequent released statement, Harbin said that he and the bill’s other supporters may have to take advantage of the biennial nature of the state legislature and put their full efforts to pass the bill next year.

State Sen. William Ligon, R-White Oak, is a co-sponsor of S.B. 221.

Meanwhile in the House, state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, got his first bill passed by the chamber — House Bill 201.

“It requires live-aboard folks on vessels in the state’s estuaries to do pump-outs,” Hogan said. “Now, pump-outs is requiring them to take the raw sewage off of their live-aboards and pump that out of holding tanks that are aboard their vessels, and monitored by DNR. The other thing that it does is allows (the state Department of Natural Resources) to establish mooring areas for vessels that are coming up and down the coast, and allowing them to moor or anchor in the mooring areas.”

Essentially, people on these vessels cannot just discharge their waste into the estuary. Along with giving DNR the power to establish mooring areas, it provides for the agency to declare areas where anchorage isn’t allowed.

House Majority Whip Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown — a friend of Hogan’s who sat next to him during the last session — gave him a little bit of ribbing on the House floor.

Kelley said, “What does it say about your legislative career that your first bill deals with human excrement?”

Hogan replied, “Well, I’ve been around you a lot.”

H.B. 201 passed with a vote of 162-1.

The House also took up Monday its version of a new state anti-human trafficking law. The Senate passed its version last week. State Rep. Chuck Eftstration, R-Dacula, spoke on this bill — H.B. 234 — of which he’s the lead sponsor.

“I’m incredibly proud of this legislation — as many of you know, I’ve worked over the past few years on anti-human trafficking legislation, and in many of our efforts, we’ve really tried to come at the problem from different directions,” Efstration said. “And I’m proud to report Georgia is no longer regarded as one of the top states with human trafficking issues, because of the outstanding legislation that this body has passed, making us a model for other states throughout the country.

“But the problem does still exist, and this protective response act really works to address the underlying causes of human trafficking, those who benefit or allow for it to take place, and then also how the child victims are treated. I think this comprehensive approach is such an exciting legislative measure to bring to you — I worked on this throughout the offseason, so this bill that you review here today is really from many hours of meeting with advocates, law enforcement officials, child social services officers, and many, many others.”

He also said he’s grateful and appreciative of the bipartisan recognition of the issue and the desire to work together on behalf of the children of the state.

“There’s been a great deal of discussion about child victims — should child victims be susceptible to be charged with a crime?” Efstration said. “And with this act, we’re sending a clear message that child victims are victims and should receive treatment, and should not be treated as criminals.”

State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, added in his remarks to remember the need for rehabilitation of the victims of these crimes.

“It costs anywhere from $90,000-$100,000 to rehabilitate a child who has suffered under human trafficking,” Welch said. “So, please keep that in mind as we move forward in the years to come, and as we set our budgets in the years to come.”

H.B. 234 passed with a vote of 167-0.

Late in Monday’s meeting of the full House, Speaker of the House David Ralston announced that H.B. 426, which would establish a new state hate crimes law, was not going to the floor that day and instead was rescheduled for today’s session.