By the end of March 2021, about 85 percent of Christian County residents will live within five miles of a public library.

In April, Christian County Library Executive Director Geri Godber kicked off National Library Week with a virtual groundbreaking. She was alone in her office when she turned over some dirt contained inside a pair of plastic buckets. The ceremony, quiet as it was, served as the start of the library construction projects in Sparta and in Clever.

Godber is back at work, and like many Christian County residents, is watching the progress of the two projects. Once the concrete slabs were poured, a pair of 5,100-square foot buildings went up quickly.

“They are rocking and rolling,” Godber said.

The Clever library project is slightly ahead of the Sparta build, where construction workers ran into more delays from spring rains.

“They are working to get Sparta pretty close to Clever, and working at a fair clip, it is safe to say. We are just thoroughly pleased to see the progression, and it’s amazing. In Clever right now—once they got off of the ground and started putting that steel up, it seems like it’s every day so much happens.”

The target completion date for the Clever library is in January of 2021, while the Sparta library is planned to be open by the end of March 2021.

Construction Services Group, which does business as the Marion Company, won the bid for the two projects. The same company is also building the Sparta Early Childhood Center on the campus of Sparta Elementary and Sparta Middle School.

In Clever, the library will sit just to the west of the Southern Bank on Highway 14. In Sparta, the library will be built to the east of the Dollar General, also on Highway 14. At both sites, there is room for the possibility of future expansion of the buildings.

In addition to heavy rains in April and May, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted some of the contractor’s supply lines.

“There have been some delays associated with the pandemic, for instance, the steel for the facilities was delayed a few weeks, if not longer,” Godber said. “Also, the glass for the buildings—they usually see a three-or-four week time, but I think it’s been six to eight weeks.”

Construction workers are able to work on other parts of the buildings while they wait for materials.

The Christian County Library planned to expand and build new library branches for more than 12 years. In 2017, Christian County voters approved the renewal of the library’s tax levy rate, providing the needed funding for expansion. The construction of both branches and purchase of new library materials, including books, DVDs, computers, furniture, and library supplies, is estimated to be $4.1 million dollars.

“Our collection services department is just fantastic, and are working with our Director of Youth Services Dana Roberts to make sure that the shelves have books and are ready to go,” Godber said.

The Clever library will house the newly-reorganized collection from the former Clever library, which was located in a storefront building on Clarke Avenue. There will be plenty of new materials for longtime Clever library patrons to browse when the new building opens.

“We purposely are planning the time from when the building is completely and, essentially, the keys are turned over to us, to our grand opening to allow for everything to be ready and set to go, and looking fantastic so it’s the best library for those communities,” Godber said.

As part of a cost-saving measure, the new branches are considered “siblings,” because they share the same building design and layout. The Clever and Sparta library buildings include spaces for book shelving, computer terminals, community rooms for library programs and community use, study rooms for small groups, teen and children’s areas, circulation desks, quiet reading spaces, and drive-through pick-up windows.

When the projects are complete, the Christian County Library will have its goal of “Four on 14,” four freestanding library branches on Highway 14 that are accessible to the vast majority of the estimated 90,000 who live in Christian County. The branches in Sparta and Clever will operate with the same hours as the libraries in Ozark and Nixa, with the same amenities.

“In addition to a larger collection, they’re going to see these study room and meeting rooms spaces that a storefront doesn’t have, a lot more computers, and essentially, a full staff,” Christian County Library Director of Communications and Community Engagement Nicholas Holladay said.

The Christian County Library will hire two branch managers and some part-time librarians to staff the two new branches, adding up to four or five new jobs in each community.

To view the library’s virtual groundbreaking video and for construction and news updates please visit http://christiancountylibrary.org/expansion.

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