Branching Out

Ashford library to relocate, expand

Dothan Houston County Library System Director Chris Warren, front, reviews documents while talking with Wiregrass Electric Cooperative Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro before a celebration of the relocation of the Ashford library.

Chris Warren smiled during a news conference focused on the relocation and expansion of the Ashford library — a significant milestone for the Dothan Houston County Library System he directs.

“We are celebrating the culmination of a lot of work. We are celebrating the beginning of an impactful project,” he says. “Brad Kimbro used the word genesis. While genesis means beginning, it indicates that something is coming next. But none of this is possible without the first step.”

MidSouth Bank, a longtime staple of the Ashford community, generously donated the building that made the project possible. The new library location is closer to Ashford’s business district and about 1,000 square feet larger than the current facility.

“With Google, you can get the answers quickly, but you get thousands of other voices and influences,” says W. Davis Malone, MidSouth Bank CEO. “One of the great things about libraries is you can sit down, read, learn and grow in a community. Andrew Carnegie said it’s a never-failing stream in the desert. I am proud to be offered the opportunity to do this.”

Building Toward a Dream

A rendering detailing the expansion of the Ashford library.

Since 1968, a library has occupied space on 6th Avenue, a few blocks from Broadway Street, the town’s major thoroughfare. That will change, though, once an approximately $800,000 renovation is completed at the new location near the intersection of Broadway and Church streets in the heart of Ashford’s redeveloping downtown.

“We see this as a win-win situation for Ashford and surrounding areas,” says Kimbro, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative’s chief operating officer and the chairman of the Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority (ADRA). “Not only will library services improve, leading to better educational opportunities for eastern Houston County residents, but the new location is closer to some of the great businesses we have. The increased foot traffic will definitely benefit our merchants — and the library — once the library relocates.”

The project, valued at about $1 million given the value of the donated building, began a few years ago when MidSouth Bank constructed a large addition to its headquarters in Dothan. The new bank building allowed MidSouth to relocate its information technology infrastructure, such as computer servers, from a data center in Ashford.

Soon after, officials from the Dothan Houston County Library System and the Ashford Downtown Redevelopment Authority discussed relocating the library to the data center with Malone and other bank officials. They approved the idea and deeded the building to the library system through the ADRA.

Creating New Growth

Midsouth Bank CEO W. Davis Malone chats with area residents during a celebration of the library's expansion.

In addition to being closer to Ashford’s growing business district, Warren sees many benefits in the new library.

“The space inside is a rectangle. That means there are no weird corners or anything like that,” he says. “It’s easy for us to get creative and maximize the space in there. I think people will be pleased by the final product.”

The location also has a sizable green space, giving officials the ability to host outdoor events to supplement the library’s programs and services.

Currently, the library offers a diverse book collection, audio and visual materials, and several computers. The larger space will allow the current offerings to expand, but it hasn’t yet been determined if new services will be added. Either way, officials see plenty of benefits an expanded library can offer.

Kimbro notes libraries lead to an improved education system, which makes the area more attractive to businesses looking to launch or relocate. And, since Ashford is a gateway to the most rural portion of Houston County, an expanded library will better serve patrons from towns like Webb, Columbia, Pansey, and Gordon.

“This will be such a big benefit to local education,” says Ashford Mayor Carole Barfield. “Our children must have a place to go when they don’t have a computer or the right references at home to complete a project.”

“It fosters a community environment,” Warren adds. “It’ll be a catalyst for economic development and further growth.”

The library’s relocation already promises to pay dividends for the Ashford city government. Once the 6th Avenue location is vacated, the library system will donate it to the city through the ADRA.

The city has yet to determine how it will use the building, but possibilities include new town council chambers or a new municipal court location.

Kimbro says the partnerships that created this project demonstrate why teamwork matters in the Wiregrass.

“Time and time again, regionalism and cooperative efforts result in a major project that benefits the area,” he says. “We’re proud of this one because it has the ability to better the lives of so many WEC members.”

“There is power in working together,” Malone adds. “Alone, one group could not do it.”