The new, 50,000-square-foot facility in Lakewood Ranch is scheduled to open mid-2023.
Back in 2018, Lakewood Ranch resident Sue Miller helped lead a grassroots effort with a group of volunteers who would eventually become the Friends of the East County Library.
Their hard work, along with countless hours of meetings, came to fruition Dec. 15 when ground was broken for the construction of the East County library in Lakewood Ranch.
“We are thrilled, delighted, excited, ecstatic, elated, dancing a jig and just over the moon that this day has arrived,” said Miller, who is the president of the Friends group.
The East County library is one of the key projects of Manatee County’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan. Plans call for a two-story, 50,000-square-foot library building with a rooftop terrace, an IT hub building, an additional parking lot with 200 spaces, a central energy plant and additional site work and road work at a cost of $17.3 million.
Manatee County Commissioners gave their final approval for the East County Library in October. The library, which is scheduled to take about 18 months to build, becomes the seventh full-service library in Manatee County.
“Libraries have been and still remain the primary institution for community and personal growth and empowerment,” said Lee Washington, the Manatee County interim director for Neighborhood Services. “That also includes remaining gateways to knowledge and culture, and creating learning opportunities.”
“This is a monumental library, and there were so many times that I wasn’t sure we were going to make it,” Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said. “It wasn’t that long ago I was calling the Friends group and telling them I needed them at meetings because the library was in trouble. They were there. They were calling in. They were tremendous.”
Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes called the library the first step in a “billion-dollar” investment by county commissioners with the capital improvement plan.
“This is a grand library,” he said. “This is not just going to be a building that houses a collection of books and periodicals, and trumpets and clarinets that people can check out. This is going to be a central meeting place for this community. It was not an easy task to get us to this day.”
Miller and several members of the Friends of the East County Library joined Manatee County officials in driving the silver shovels into the ground to get the project underway.
“We look forward to continuing our positive relationship with Manatee Library Services to make this community library the best it can be,” Miller said. “Our voice has made and will continue to make a difference. There is much work yet to do. We look forward to the next 18 months passing quickly and returning to this location in mid-2023 for the ribbon cutting ceremony.”
Baugh, who just completed the first year of her third term in office, said the East County library is at the top of her list when it comes to legacy projects. It’s followed closely by the aquatic center that’s in the works just a few hundred yards away at Premier Park.
“These things are finally happening, and I could not be happier,’ she said. “I'm so proud for Lakewood Ranch, for the citizens of Manatee County and for what this will do for us as a community.”
Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.