FOLEY – A new Foley library, twice the size of the current structure will not only be a place to check out books, but a community center and learning facility when it opens in about two years, city leaders said.

The library will be built on city property south of the Foley Post Office, near the city Dog Park, 

Mayor Ralph Hellmich said Foley has outgrown the current library.

“We’ve been in and now since 2006, and we’ve pretty well maxed that library out,” Hellmich said. “We knew we had a choice. We can build a new library. We could let it stay maxed out there and forget about it. We could add on where we were, but we’ve already added on that building once.”

The growing city also needs more services, Hellmich said. 

“Our libraries are not just book repositories where you go in and a librarian  goes and finds a book for you. They are community-programs and we recognized that we needed space for community programs, like the Literacy Council, which does tremendous work assisting our folks in filling the gaps of where education does not. So, for these community based programs, we need additional space.”

The new library will include about 40,000 square feet of space. The current facility is about 20,000. The projected cost of the project is $20 million.

Hellmich said the area’s congressman, U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl, helped get the work off to a good start by helping to secure $2 million for the project.

“That helped a lot,” Hellmich said. “We appreciate Congressman Carl and the delegation’s work on this. If we can get money for this, it allows us to leverage that money and move forward. We’re going to spend $20 million on the library so we’ve got a good start.”

Carl said the funds will provide benefits to residents throughout the region.

“I’m thrilled to secure funding for the Foley Public Library to create a community educational center for resume building, job-training classes, and a new literacy program,” Carl said. “I look forward to this space being enjoyed by so many folks in Baldwin County for years to come.”

 John Jackson, library director, said designers are working on plans for a facility that will meet Foley’s needs for years to come.

“Our idea is to build a structure that is going to be flexible enough to where, say in 20 years, after libraries continue to evolve, we’re still relevant, because we’re putting money into a structure,” Jackson said. “We want it to be functional and relevant for a long, long time. So we need to plan on the future of libraries.”

Jackson said the role of libraries has changed since the current building opened and continues to change. The library offers literacy classes, computer instruction, meeting spaces, help preparing resumes and other services.

“We want to do more of that as we get to the new building,” Jackson said. “We want to do more educational components. One of the big things we want to do is to incorporate a STEAM or a STEM classroom for science and technology and math and engineering, where those types of projects can be taught.”

Library staffers also want to expand programs such as summer reading and English as a Second Language.

Jackson said the current plan calls for the new library to be designed this year, built in 2024 and open some time in 2025. Right now, planners are talking to residents and other library users to determine what services members of the public would like to see in the new facility.

“We want folks to come tell us what you want to see, what would bring you in and keep you coming back,” Jackson said. “We want to be more of a hub of the community. We think we’re the center of the community now but we want to expand that. We want to enhance it.”

Hellmich said plans being considered could also include an outdoor area on the roof of part of the building. 

“It has two or three stories and then one portion of the building is one story,” Hellmich said. “On top of that porch and the exterior, we were hoping to have a really unique outside space on that roof. It would be overlooking the Dog Park to the west. It could be used for outside venues.”

The mayor said city officials considered other locations for the library. They decided, however, that downtown is the best place for the facility.

One of the things I learned was that if a city loses its downtown, it loses its heart. Mobile figured that out. That’s why they went back to Dauphin Street,” Hellmich said. “That library is part of our downtown and we want to fit in with that.”

Hellmich said the current library will be used for other city purposes after the new facility opens.