By Amy Wenk
Construction of a new Brookhaven Library is at a standstill.
Although funds were made available from the $230 million bond referendum DeKalb County voters approved in 2005, which allocated $54 million for 13 projects to improve library infrastructure, the community has yet to decide on a location. Neighborhood leaders have very different opinions about where the home of the Brookhaven branch should be.
“Nothing is for sure as of right now,” said Ron Leonard, a DeKalb County Public Library spokesman. “They are still in negotiation with property owners and people in the community to determine where we are going to build, if we are going to build on the existing site or if we are going to move the library to a new site.”
The library, now at the corner of Apple Valley and North Druid Hills roads, is 6,800 square feet, was completed in 1955 and was renovated in 1991.
“We are projecting that the new building will have about 15,000” square feet, Leonard said.
In addition to more books and computers, he noted that an expanded children’s and teen area, additional audiovisual materials, and increased meeting space are typical of new county library branches. “The intention is for them to be community gathering spaces.”
Two community leaders shared their ideas for the new library.
Ronnie Mayer, the president of the Ashford Park Civic Association, has a plan he thinks will make the library the “shining star” of the county system.
He wants to relocate the facility to Brookhaven Park at 4158 Peachtree Road, on the corner of Osborne Road.
“It belongs to DeKalb County now, and they call it the dog park,” Mayer said. “The building that is there now (the DeKalb Training Center) is run down, eaten up by termites, and they just keep repatching each year.”
He suggests relocating the center to one of the county’s closed elementary schools.
“It’s a win-win because DeKalb County already owns the property, so they wouldn’t have to acquire any property,” said Mayer, adding that Peachtree Road frontage and the topography make the land well-suited for a library. “You could read a book to your child in the park. It’s a one-stop shop.”
Mayer also envisions relocating the tag office adjacent to the library at the park, as well as including a coffee shop. He would like to raise private funds to move the Goodwin House — the circa-1830s house at 3931 Peachtree Road — to the park for community functions.
“This could be the Brookhaven town center,” he said, noting he sees art classes being held in the basement of the library and the park becoming the site of local festivities.
The benefits of his idea, Mayer said, include reduced county costs and more green space.
He has presented his proposal to the county, library board members and MARTA officials.
“Ronnie has been quite vociferous in advocating this idea,” said Jack Hondred, an architect and member of the Brookhaven-Peachtree Community Alliance (BPCA). “I don’t think it has gotten a lot of traction down at the county, and it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction with us. There are a number of drawbacks to it.”
The BPCA was formed in early 2004 by residents who were concerned MARTA was planning to sell or lease the property around the Brookhaven/Oglethorpe station. Although not opposed to development, the group wanted to guide it to create a more cohesive, livable community.
In that pursuit, the BPCA obtained a Livable Center Initiative (LCI) study from the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Completed in 2006, the study examined the corridors along Dresden Drive, Peachtree Road and North Druid Hills Road to develop a vision for the area and an action plan to create a dynamic, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented center.
“The (LCI) planners said the library should go on the MARTA site because that’s the center of Brookhaven,” Hondred said. “We think that’s a really good idea, too.”
He said MARTA is looking at redeveloping the site as a mixed-use center.
“I’ve seen the latest concept scheme that MARTA has come up with,” Hondred said. “They are talking about putting (the library) right up on Peachtree … right where there is currently parking. There would be a large public plaza adjacent to the library, and it would create quite an exciting public space as an entrance for the MARTA station.”
As for Brookhaven Park, Hondred is leading a BPCA subgroup called Friends of Brookhaven Park.
“We are organizing and trying to get a master plan together for a complete redesign of the park to make it a true public park, where it is the center of Brookhaven,” he said. “We’re not talking about a dramatic difference in the use of the park. We’re more talking about creating a real sense of a public entrance.”
The park effort has involved three public sessions so far. More than 100 people went through design options and gave input on the plans.
Hondred said a meeting with county Commissioners Kathie Gannon, Elaine Boyer and Jeff Rader is expected in the coming weeks.
“Then we will go out and raise private funds for the remainder of what we need to bring in professionals to do a master plan,” he said. “I would anticipate a master plan being complete by the end of the year.”
But Mayer said that is not a good proposal.
“DeKalb County has no money to spend on our parks as of now,” he said. “MARTA and developers have zero money to spend on the Brookhaven MARTA station development, and mommies are not going to take their kids to the MARTA station, where there are no places to park, to enjoy the library. …
“It will be over 10 years from now before MARTA and the developers do anything.”
Mayer vows to keep pushing his ideas into the minds of community leaders, much as he did with the Ashford Park Community Center, which opened in October. It took six years for the center in the park to come to fruition.
“You have to start somewhere,” Mayer said. “A lot of people don’t think outside the box.”