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East County Wednesday, Sep. 11, 2019 2 years ago

Lakewood Ranch library advocates hope for bigger library

Proponents of Lakewood Ranch library worry Manatee County is not planning an adequate building.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Before Cliff Bueno moved to Lakewood Ranch, he lived in Clifton Park, N.Y., where he and fellow members of Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library Board of Trustees oversaw the planning and construction of what is now the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public Library.

The $14 million, 55,000- square-foot library built there cost the average household about $150 per year through a special taxing district, and it served a population of about 50,000.

That’s part of the reason Bueno is suggesting that Manatee County build a bigger library in Lakewood Ranch than it currently is planning. Manatee County’s current budget allocation of $10 million (between now and fiscal year 2022) is for a 24,000 square foot library on two acres north of the Lakewood Ranch Post Office and Premier Sports Campus.

Manatee County commissioners are set to approve the 2020 fiscal year budget Sept. 17. Bueno and other library

enthusiasts hope to persuade commissioners that bigger is better and could be sustainable operationally.

“It’s a center for lifelong learning,” Bueno said. “It’s not just for books. It’s a safe meeting spot, a learning center for programs.”

Sue Ann Miller, president of the future library’s fundraising group, Friends of the East Manatee Library at LWR, said she’s disappointed the county is not making the library bigger. It originally was slated for up to 30,000 square feet.

“We have a concern [about size],” Miller said. “Lakewood Ranch is growing, growing, growing. The idea is to build it right the first time, or at least the shell.”

She said she wishes the county would also talk to the community more about its needs and desires and then determine the size, rather than the other way around.

County officials said that although the county could build a bigger library, the costs to operate it — which come from general revenues — are limited, and running the facility day-to-day could be a financial challenge.

Manatee County administrator Cheri Coryea said the library design has not yet begun, but the 24,000 square feet is likely a first phase. It will be situated and planned in such a way so as to best utilize a phased-approach. It could be built as a one- or two-story building on property north of Premier Sports Campus. The county is working to develop a master plan for the overall site, which will include a future aquatics center, sports facilities and other government buildings.

“It is too soon to tell when or if additional phases will be needed and when funds for such may be available,” Coryea said.

Advocates for a larger library believe the library could be sustainable at a larger size, and Miller said volunteers are ready to support the new library. The Friends group would like to have a bookstore inside the library, possibly with a coffee shop.

During the county’s budget hearing Sept. 9, Lakewood Ranch’s William Carlton echoed Bueno’s and Miller’s sentiments in encouraging the commission to consider investing in a formal study of libraries across the country. Those findings then could be used to create “a case” for philanthropy to raise money both for the construction and long-term operations of the library.

Carlton said a task force then could go to local leaders to get a clear understanding of how much money could be raised and to solicit donations, such as through naming rights.

Carlton, who has done nonprofit fundraising for 45 years through his firm, Carlton and Co., said he believes at least $1 million could be raised.

“The library should be significant and will be significant in the future,” Carlton said. “I’d like the planning not to be nitpicking over the size and so forth, but it should be focused on the kind of facility that will be important in the future. It should be a blend of private-public monies that will allow the library to be what it should be.”

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