The proposed joint library lost another supporting partner and the $746,000 estimated loss leaves the question of whether the project still has a leg to stand on.
Armstrong Atlantic State University wanted to build a nearly 43,000 square foot classroom/office building for students with local public use and asked for support from local governmental entities — school board, commission board, Hinesville and the industrial authority.
But Liberty County commissioners decided the project was too costly and uncertain and bowed out during its Thursday’s meeting.
The Liberty County Board of Education dropped out of the deal in March.
AASU would contribute $240,000 a year for 30 years for the $8.5 million project. Partners would each be responsible for nearly $25,000, plus operational costs when the library is built.
County Administrator Joey Brown explained AASU would be under a long-term lease with yearly renewal.
“So Armstrong’s commitment will be from year to year,” Brown said.
“We have to be very prudent when we contract with anyone because people change their position … nothing’s promised,” said County Commission Chairman John McIver.
“We don’t think they would, but we just don’t know,” commissioner Connie Thrift said of a possible AASU pull-out. “It would be very nice, but I think the timing is just not right with the revenue we have in the county right now.”
“I don’t want us to send the message we’re not concerned of continuing education in the county,” said commissioner Eddie Walden. “We strongly encourage Armstrong to stay in our community but we’re in a financial crisis.”
However, if AASU’s project is not adequately funded, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas fears the community may lose the opportunity to have a four-year school.
“I know we will because the SACS accreditation board is going to come 2011 and the facility they have is not sufficient,” Thomas said.
“It would certainly make it much more difficult,” said Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley. “But as far as whether it will occur or not, I really couldn’t comment on that.”
The LCDA has not pulled its partnership from the project but will discuss the decision at its June 29 meeting.
Tolley said there never was a set agreement that everyone would participate when AASU first presented the idea about a year ago.
Taxpayers contributed $5 million of special-purpose local option sales tax money for a public library.
“We’re going to build a library, with or without Armstrong,” said county chief financial officer Kim McGlothlin.
She advised commissioners to beware of tacking a 30-year, $4.1 million debt on an already-trim budget.
She cited the $19 million justice center and dire need to expand and replace the roof on the records center, which will cost about $1.2 million.
“I don’t believe we’d go broke, but I think we’d be where we couldn’t get our head above water if we need to,” Walden said.
“This is a tough time to try to pull this off,” said McIver, who added participation may be a future possibility. “We are in a real financial condition in the county that taking on another commitment — not knowing how we’ll meet it — will be a real risky thing to do.”