Emotions were high Thursday as Beaufort County broke ground on a new St. Helena Island library, which is expected to open late next year.
The 24,000-square-foot building will take the place of a public library that shares space in the St. Helena Elementary School media center.
Maria Benac, the branch's current manager, choked back tears as she described the new library as a promise to St. Helena residents and a resource that will help students reach for their best.
"When we failed to have a library here, so many children stopped doing that. So many children started slipping by the wayside," Benac said. "And this library will help to renew an excitement for education and for learning."
Many said the library has been a long time coming.
County Councilman Bill McBride, who represents the island, told those gathered that decades ago, two local women delivered books to St. Helena's children in their own vehicles until a bookmobile took over in 1958.
The partnership with the elementary school began in the early 1990s.
McBride said he has been pushing for construction of a permanent location for at least a decade.
"This St. Helena branch library has been part of my dream for the people of this island and all of Beaufort County for many years," he said.
Singers from St. Helena Elementary and Beaufort High School entertained the crowd with renditions of "Carolina in the Morning" and "Holy, Holy, Holy."
Federal, state and local officials donned hard hats and turned spadefuls of dirt to mark the start of construction.
Meanwhile, the sound of pistons and machinery could be heard from the work site a few hundred feet away, as an excavator scooped up buckets of black earth.
"It's absolutely incredible," said Wlodek Zaryczny, director of the Beaufort County Library. "The community's been waiting for this for years and years."
The project is expected to cost $11.1 million, including books and computers.
Construction will be funded by a $6 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a $2.5 million grant from the USDA, a $1.5 million grant from the S.C. Department of Commerce and $1.1 million from county impact fees.
Deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said after the event that the $6 million USDA loan is a 40-year note. Taxpayers will begin paying it off next year, when it will add probably about three-tenths of a mill to property-tax bills, he said.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.