Gulf Gate Library patrons last week voiced excitement regarding the prospect of the Sarasota County Commission’s accelerating the construction of the new facility on the same day the board approved the current Curtiss Avenue site for the project.
“I am thrilled,” said incoming Friends of the Library board member Conni Wheeler.
The facility, which opened on the southwest corner of Gulf Gate Drive and Curtiss Avenue on Dec. 5, 1983, is past the point where routine maintenance can keep it as clean and fresh-smelling as it should be, she said.
Since she moved to Sarasota four years ago, Wheeler has been a regular library user and volunteer. Moreover, she said, whenever her grandchildren come to visit, the library is their second favorite spot — after the swimming pool. They love to check out books, DVDs and puzzles, she said.
According to county staff, Gulf Gate had the highest circulation of all eight county libraries in 2010.
Sarabeth Kalajian, general manager of the county’s libraries, said the Gulf Gate Library also has high attendance for its programs.
“One only has to try to find a parking space in the parking lot (to see proof of that),” she said. “It’s truly a neighborhood library. Staff (members) say so many of the patrons are familiar to them.”
Deanie Erb, president of the Friends of the Library for Gulf Gate, said users come not only from the immediate vicinity of the facility but also from Siesta Key and Palmer Ranch.
“We’re all just very happy about the project,” she said.
After a presentation Sept. 14 by design manager Isaac Brownman of the County’s Public Works Department, Commission Chair Nora Patterson said: “I would like to see (the new library) breaking ground soon after site plans are finished. A ton of folks use that library. They’ve followed almost a tortuous process for funding this thing.”
Total funding for the project was available but had been reallocated at some point, Patterson said.
“Somehow, it got zeroed out,” she said. “I don’t know how or when. It was just a very unusual taking of dollars.”
During a Sept. 6 budget workshop, James Harriott, the county’s executive director of public works, said the total cost of the new library has been estimated at $9,403,660. To date, only $2,403,660 has been allocated for it, according to materials supplied to the commissioners. Harriott had listed the construction on the county’s capital improvements program for the 2015 fiscal year.
However, Harriott said, once the design was complete, funding options could be explored to speed up the work.
Cindy Guest, the former head librarian at Gulf Gate Library, said she also was pleased with the news the project may be put on a faster timetable. She had emailed Patterson after the budget discussion to ask that the county “proceed within the October 2013 completion parameters” that Patterson had mentioned during that meeting.
“I’m trying to be very positive about it,” Erb said. “You just hope for the best.”
Commissioner Joe Barbetta said Sept. 14 that low interest rates on bonds and construction costs allow the county to proceed more quickly.
Brownman said staff would work with Harvard Jolly Inc., of Punta Gorda, for the bidding and construction phases for the new library. Harvard Jolly was selected Jan. 12 for design, bidding and construction services, including site evaluation.
“We would like to get you a design contract in the next month,” Brownman said, but no later than November.
The county had earmarked more than 300 potential locations for the new library. Those were reduced to eight, Brownman said, and two others were added. Harvard Jolly, he said, had settled on the Curtiss Avenue site for a number of reasons, including the fact the county already owns the property, no rezoning will be necessary, the site is located within the heart of the Gulf Gate community and access is good, as the location is near Beneva Road and Gulf Gate Drive.
However, Brownman said, the site size and shape will necessitate a two-story structure. The County Commission may want to consider building the new facility adjacent to the current one, he said, but that probably would increase the time for completion.
Another option is for the county to lease space for the library while construction proceeds.
“If there is any possible way we can build and continue operation on the site, we would at least want to consider that,” Kalajian said.