Funding for a library and community center has gained initial nods from the County Commission, but school district participation was sought as well.
Longboat Key leaders this week found a new audience in front of whom they promoted recent town accomplishments and hinted that although school-aged children might be few and far between on the island, the demand for continuing education is not hard to find.
The Sarasota County School Board brought its regular meeting to Town Hall on June 21 because of work being performed at its normal meeting site; the board met earlier in June in North Port.
Before the school board proceedings, Mayor Ken Schneier and Town Manager Tom Harmer touted recent municipal successes and plans, including a potential library and community center for which design funding has been added to initial county budget plans. Town leaders also are in conversations with Sarasota County Schools to ascertain what potential contributions that government agency might offer.
"We understand that having a quality education is one of the great parts of having a great community, so we appreciate all that you do," Schneier told school board members Tuesday evening. "And although we don’t have any conventional schools here on Longboat, we do have a lot of students, and with an average age of 71, our interest in learning is intense without having to worry about grades or padding resumes anymore. We finally have the opportunity to go to classes and to learn new things and to become artists and to read in our free time. In a real way, we feel like we are part of your student body as well."
As part of the town’s pre-meeting presentation, a chart indicated the town is home to about 75 school-aged children in both Sarasota and Manatee counties but more than 7,500 permanent residents.
In late May, the Sarasota County Commission agreed to include in its fiscal 2023 budget $1 million to fund the design of a proposed library/community center on the Town Center Green land. Town leaders approached county commissioners this year with a proposed timeline that kicks off with upgraded remote library services for island residents by the end of 2022, followed by a path that includes the project landing on the county’s five-year, capital-improvement project budget to solidify its position in line for further county tax dollars, beginning in next year’s budget with money for planning and design. Following along: construction dollars in 2024 and operational dollars in 2025.
Conversations about the library project were also scheduled as part of a June joint meeting with Manatee County leaders, though that meeting had to be put off.
Harmer showed school board members and staff a presentation that included progress on the town’s underground utilities project, beach renourishment, fire station upgrades, construction of the St. Regis condominium and hotel project, and the Town Center Green project, which includes performance space and a stage.
"As you heard the mayor mention, we have a lot of students on the island. We have about about 7,515," he said.
Harmer twice mentioned the proposed library and community center’s reserved spot on the Town Center Green as part of his presentation outlining plans to build a stage and further refine the public-gathering site.
Harmer told the school board members and staff that the St. Regis project is moving forward quickly and that a ribbon-cutting is already set for June 6, 2024.
"The developer has said that that’s about an $800 million project," Harmer said. "I know it’s in Sarasota County, so you guys recognize the value of that type of project. We’re not sure how much of that is going to come on the tax rolls, but I’ve heard anywhere from $400 (million) to that $800 (million) number, but it’s a large project that will really, I think, set the bar here in Southwest Florida for five-star resorts on the Gulf of Mexico."
School board member Shirley Brown encouraged town leaders to consider seeking performances from public school groups during Town Center Green events.
"They practice so hard, and they get these things together, and they really would like to share those skills with you, and I think it would be a win-win situation," she said.
School board chair Jane Goodwin thanked Harmer and Schneier for their presentations and thanked the town for its consistent support of the school district’s supplemental 1-mill tax rate, which has been been approved by county voters every four years since 2002.
"I want to thank you for always being there for us during the referendum in a very big way," she said. "And you may have not as many students as other parts of our county have, but you certainly have made an impact in the times we have done the referendum, you have always been there with us and I just want to say thank you for your support. It’s wonderful to be here, and thank you for allowing us to be here. You do a great job, and we love partnering with Longboat Key."
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