A county staff meeting last week and a fundraising meeting planned for February are the first steps in a process Gulf Gate Library users hope will lead to a new facility by the end of 2013.
The county’s library department staff has been thinking about this “for a very long time,” Sarabeth Kalajian, general manager of the county’s libraries, said last week.
Those meetings follow a Sarasota County Commission vote Dec. 6, allowing staff to proceed with design, bidding and construction services on the site of the existing facility, 7112 Curtiss Ave., Sarasota. The new Gulf Gate Library is expected to encompass 22,000 square feet in two floors. A county memo noted the design will provide for drive-through book and media drop-off areas, automated materials check-in and sorting, larger meeting rooms, adequate parking and landscaping buffers.
The $740,000 contract for that stage of the work went to Harvard Jolly Inc., which already had been working with county staff on the planning. “That (contract signing) really signals the beginning of the project that has the most impact on the community,” Kalajian said.
“They started the site survey yesterday,” said Conni Wheeler, a Friends of the Library board member, referring to Harvard Jolly. “You can see the flags … to determine which area should be built on,” she added — “whether (the new library) will be in the middle (of the property).”
Staff members have been poring over professional journals, Kalajian said, undertaking a lot of research regarding library designs that will meet changing public demands and technological innovations. They’ve also been taking advantage of webinars and workshops. “We’re all just kind of soaking ourselves (in information), so we can take what we know has been the very best (of practices) and build on the current success (of the library) and make it better,” she added.
“The library is the hub of the community,” Deanie Erb, president of the Friends of Gulf Gate Library, told the Pelican Press.
People don’t just come in to borrow books and DVDs, Erb pointed out, but they also come for Chess Club and French Club meetings, for example and programs on topics of national and international relevance.
The first week of January, Erb conducted a “One Book, One Community” meeting, focused on “The Hunger Games” — the popular young-adult book that community members chose for the second year of the countywide program. Thirty-six people attended that session, Erb said.
According to county statistics, the Gulf Gate Library had the highest circulation of all county libraries in 2010. Patrons long have hoped for a new facility, as Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson has pointed out during commission meetings.
“We are entering the place where there will be public meetings,” Kalajian said, “to gather ideas from library users, neighbors and the public at large.”
Kalajian was not certain when the first public meeting would be scheduled, she added. However, she pointed out, “We’re at the front of our season, when a lot of folks are here.” The snowbirds should be as involved in the process as year-round users, she said.
One idea staff has discussed, Kalajian said, is putting up a display in Gulf Gate Library, where people could record their ideas — “(a) brainstorming (exercise) as you walk through (the building) kind of thing.”
She added, “People are very anxious to tell us what services they want us to emphasize, and we’ll go from there.”
Kalajian said staff is well aware of the need to keep in mind that technological advances will continue to have an impact on library users. For example, she said, county libraries have become the first places many older Sarasota residents turn to learn how to use the electronic book readers on the market.
Moreover, she said, staff wants to be sure to include special spaces in the new library to encourage patrons from toddlers to teens, as well as adults.
While the exact timeline for the library’s construction has not been set, the County Commission in September indicated it wanted to accelerate the process, possibly by borrowing money, given low interest rates and construction costs. Still, Erb is cognizant that the county will not fund everything library patrons will want. That’s why her organization already has been discussing fundraisers.
The chairman of the fundraising campaign is Cindy Guest, the long-time, former manger of Gulf Gate Library.
“We have some money,” Erb said of the Friends organization, “but we are going to need a lot more for the enhancements to really make the library attractive and useful.”
A neighborhood fundraiser will be the first, Erb said. Details will be announced soon, she said.