From Hardware Store to a State of the Art Building: Introducing the New South Huntsville Public Library

By Bob Druckman
South Huntsville Neighbors

Huntsville is growing; South Huntsville in particular. Just driving around you can see the progress being made at Haysland Square and all along the Parkway, construction trucks abound. Bailey Cove is no different. There is a new Huntsville Hospital Urgent Care clinic being built, a new Taco Bell and in the former D1 location you can also find a training gym and Merino Trampoline Gymnastics. Just a few blocks away is the new South Huntsville Public Library. From humble beginnings (originally a hardware store) to this amazing new building, this new library epitomizes the growth we are seeing in South Huntsville.

Cindy Hewitt is the Executive Director of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library (HMCPL). Hewitt has been with HMCPL for 11 years and has a total of 28 years of library experience. With HMCPL she started as a Branch Manager, became Deputy Director and then Interim Director. She no longer has interim attached to her title and is the Executive Director.

“COVID was definitely challenging, as I was the Interim Director at that time and we were suddenly having to adapt and find new ways to serve the needs of the public,” said Hewitt, “Like so many other businesses, curbside pickup became our answer and there were days where we had cars lined up around the block so the parents could get books for their children.”

Hewitt stated that it was the creativity, adaptability and hardworking nature of the staff that allowed them to push through and persevere.

Building a new library is no easy process. This library took more than 10 years from concept to end result.

As Hewitt tells it, Madison County Commissioner Phil Riddick was aware of the age of the old library, as was Huntsville City Council Member Jennie Robinson. Commissioner Riddick spearheaded a campaign to raise money, but that was just part of it. Private donors contributed $1.8 million, the Madison County Commission contributed $4 million and the City of Huntsville contributed $6.2 million in capital funds. The city is really invested in the library system and will always do whatever they can to help.

Hewitt discussed the location as she said, “We looked at several potential locations but none of them felt right. When the Sandra Moon Community Complex came up, we felt that this location would serve well as the anchor of the South Huntsville community.”

HMCPL is focused on literacy, workforce development, meeting spaces (you can actually see teenagers working), people playing Mah Jongg, story time for children along with children’s programming. (Publisher Note: Wait until you see the rocket in the children’s room) It is designed to be a safe environment, lots of space and energy efficient.

Hewitt said that the HMCPL’s relationship with the Parks and Recreation Department really reflects the needs of the community. She was grateful to see all facets of government working together to make this library a place the community can be proud of.

With most new facilities there is always a “WOW” factor. As far as Hewitt is concerned, this library is full of them.

“There are so many WOW factors,” said Hewitt. “The library has the ability to offer high tech instruction to the public, a children’s room where the parents feel safe for them to explore, an adult reading room, a number of nooks and crannies to find a comfortable reading spot and so much more to make sure the library’s entire patrons feel welcome.”

The South Huntsville Public Library has spaces to host classes or clubs, display art shows, explore music and so much more.

New services can also add to the WOW factor. In this case, there is a laptop rental station where the public can rent a laptop with just their library card for up to 2 hours. The Automatic Materials Handler can literally identify a book when it’s returned and drops it in the proper bin. The library staffers love this and the kids love to watch it work. There are business centers and a teen gaming room along with a flowing screen where movies can be shown. It’s all so humbling.

Hewitt discussed workforce development as part of the library’s mission so this led to a conversation about HATCH. Café’s in libraries can be good and bad. That can lead to some not so good relationships.

“A library is a nonprofit and a café wants to make a profit, but the relationship between them can work well,” said Hewitt, “We have found that our partnership with HATCH elevates both the library and the café. HATCH is able to take their profits and plug it back into training their staff in the hospitality industry, and the library patrons get amazing coffee and snacks.”

(Publisher Note: the coffee is another WOW factor).

As with any business model, there is always a group that works to get things done. The Friends of the Library is no different.

“Becky Vansant is the President and a driving force,” said Hewitt, “The Friends have been very supportive, sponsoring fundraisers and never hesitating to help when we ask for assistance.”

Hewitt has a simple message for the readers of South Huntsville Neighbors, “Come check us out, see all the library has to offer and know how thankful we are for your continued support that allows us to bring facilities like this to you.”

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