After months of value-engineering and contract negotiations, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners broke ground Wednesday at the future East End Community Complex.
Though price negotiations have taken months, officials said during a ceremony at the Midway site that the project has been a dream since at least 2003, when the county acquired the land from the Liberty County Board of Education.
“I’m proud to say that this site, and our vision for it, is one that we feel you as citizens can be proud of …,” BoC Chairman John McIver said. “We can just see great things for the east end with this site being developed and renovated.”
The site, formerly home to Liberty Elementary/High School and recently known as the Midway Civic Center, will house a library, Keep Liberty Beautiful offices, a historically restored classroom and a pool and playground operated by the Liberty County Recreation Department.
Officials said the county also hopes to provide some satellite services, such as offices for the tax commissioner, tags and the sheriff’s office.
After a first round of bids came back at more than $5 million, Buckley and Associates architects value-engineered the project and entered into negotiations with Pope Construction.
County Administrator Joey Brown said the final project budget is $3.876 million, and workers should be on the site within two weeks.
A pavilion and walking trail originally designed for the first stage had to be deferred, but Brown added that the county likely will seek Division of Natural Resources state funding for the trail.
Once all components of this phase are complete, the site will open, Brown said. The schedule calls for about one year of work.
“In a short time, Liberty County will have two pools and a library that is past due, because we have outgrown the one on Martin Road,” District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens Sr. said. “And the east end will not have to travel all the way to Hinesville for the swimming pool, not only to get there, then to find out it is filled or a long waiting line.”
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, speaking on behalf of the state, recalled attending the school. He said the library is where his own love of knowledge was born, and he hopes the new facility serves the same purpose for children today.
Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington also spoke about the project’s long build-up and even poked fun.
“I have three words: It’s about time,” she said, adding that with the work under way, several questions to commissioners will be replaced with one: “When is it going to be finished?”
“Not only will we have a gorgeous facility, but we will have something that will help us contribute to our social, physical and mental well-being,” Washington said.
Riceboro Mayor Bill Austin recalled his own memories at the school. Though it is in the long-term site plane, Austin said he hopes the county takes special effort to restore the school gymnasium, because Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. played basketball there to unwind on several occasions when visiting Liberty County.
Liberty County Library Board of Trustees Chairwoman LaFayne May said the library will provide a wider range of materials and more study space than the current Midway/Riceboro library, as well as a computer lab.
Charles Frasier, chairman of the Liberty County High School Alumni Association, thanked the county, alumni and involved organizations for their support. He spoke about the restored classroom and asked that any alumnus who wishes to contribute do so.
Kenny Howard, chairman of the Liberty County Board of Recreation, recalled his days playing on a T-ball team while growing up in Riceboro and reflected on the benefits of youth involvement.
“Participating on that team left a mark on me that is still there to this very day,” Howard said. “And that is, team concept — learn how to win and lose with dignity, learn how to serve. The lessons — leading, following — are still with me today.”