In his office, Gulf Gate Library Manager Jim Mitchell keeps drawings youngsters have created for him, expressing their ideas about how the new library will look.
Tuesday afternoon, he was looking at one piece of artwork, which a 5-year-old had completed. It featured a youth department on the ground floor of the planned two-story structure, and it had an abundance of trees on the property.
The final noteworthy feature showed the sun shining down on Gulf Gate Library.
“It’s a good thought,” he said of the color scheme, with its predominance of green, blue and purple shades. “It won’t fly, though, with the Friends of the Library,” he added with a chuckle.
With limited schematics available so far from the design team of Harvard Jolly Inc., Mitchell said, he’s been using the children’s artwork in discussions with people as the planning process continues for the new library.
That planning process took a big step forward Feb. 23, when nearly 80 people attended an open house Sarasota County officials hosted at St. Andrew United Church of Christ, on Beneva Road, to invite comments about how the modern, 22,000-square-foot Gulf Gate Library will look.
Although the Sarasota County Commission has not approved a final funding plan for the project, board members indicated in discussions last year that they wanted the facility to be completed in 2013. The commission voted Dec. 6 to award a $740,000 contract to Harvard Jolly for the design work.
Sarasota County Libraries General Manager Sarabeth Kalajian said this week that people were waiting outside the church when the doors opened at 4:30 p.m. for the open house.
“I was very pleased with the turnout,” she said.
Three stations offered some preliminary designs, she said, and flip charts were available for members of the public to write down comments about what they hoped to see in the new facility. The library will be built on the same property where the current facility stands, 7112 Curtiss Ave., Sarasota.
“They could look at the boards, ask some questions,” Kalajian said. “Then we, of course, asked them some questions and recorded what they had to say.”
Common themes emerged, Kalajian said. For example, many of the participants talked about how much they like “the intimate, cozy atmosphere of the current Gulf Gate Library. It’s warm, inviting,” she added.
For another example, she said, “Folks really like the natural light from the central atrium” and its windows, because seating areas in that space provide a pleasant place to read newspapers and books.
“I know the architects have really been thinking of ways to interpret that comment,” Kalajian added. “They’re really taking that to heart.”
Yet another common point focused on the need for improved parking facilities. “Parking always is a big theme in libraries,” she said.
Designers spend much time working on the look of a new facility’s interior, Kalajian said, but the convenience of parking affects everything else.
Some attendees also wanted to be sure the Friends of the Library would be able to maintain their bookstore and said they hoped it would be enlarged.
In surveying comments Tuesday afternoon on a website Harvard Jolly had set up for internal staff use, Mitchell said he also saw comments about an additional or expanded area for visually impaired readers. The library has one room with a special computer that enables readers to use a much larger screen.
He found comments, too, asking that the proposed new space for teens be flexible, so it could be used for other purposes.
The new library’s teen space will be modeled on the design recently unveiled at Selby Public Library in downtown Sarasota, Mitchell said.
Other comments requested a hearing loop, to aid hard-of-hearing patrons, in both the large meeting room planned for the first floor and smaller meeting rooms on the second floor; and a children’s garden with plenty of bicycle racks.
Additionally, Mitchell said, staff is thinking about providing some study rooms in the new facility.
“They’ve proven to be very popular,” he said, at the Fruitville, Selby and North Sarasota libraries.
The staff had been working hard to expand its teen program, he said, “but we also want to maintain some quieter areas.”
Mitchell pointed out that it is common to see people come into the library in the afternoons, to read books and magazines — and even their e-readers, he added with a laugh.
“I’m not going to complain (about the latter),” he said.
Mitchell has been the Gulf Gate Library manger for almost three years. Prior to that, he was in charge of all the public libraries in New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina hit.
He doubted the process of constructing a new library in Sarasota would be as demanding as having to oversee the setting up of temporary modular units for libraries in the aftermath of New Orleans’ devastation, he said.
A second open house seeking comments on the library design is planned for March 29. By that time, the Harvard Jolly team is expected to have preliminary schematics ready.
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