Lakewood Ranch resident Shannon Allen loves taking her children to the library. In fact, it’s a pastime they do up to four times a week attending the chess club and educational programs or just flipping through book pages.
She frequents all the libraries in the area, whether in Sarasota or Manatee counties, but probably visits Manatee County’s Braden River branch most often. Her children, Nicholas and Charlotte, know the librarians there by name.
But having a library in Lakewood Ranch would be an asset, she said.
“They definitely need it because of the boom in families,” Allen said at the Braden River Library as Nicholas, 6, played chess with a child he just met. “Libraries are a community center. Children need books. They need the tactile experience of it.”
Manatee County’s plans to expand the Braden River Library are in progress, but the county also anticipates constructing a new library in Lakewood Ranch within the next five years, said Cheri Coryea, director of Manatee County’s Neighborhood Services Department.
Designing the library is at least two years away, but there are a few features Coryea knows it will have based on feedback from the community. It will have top-notch children's areas with plenty of educational programming and will be designed with an open concept. It also will have meeting rooms, study space and room for computers and technology.
The Lakewood Ranch library will range from about 35,000 square feet — about the size of the existing Braden River Library — up to about 50,000, more comparable with the county’s largest library facility, Central Library.
“What we talked about is planning for the future,” Coryea said. “If we were able to do a larger footprint, we might not be able to open it up all in the beginning. That’s going to be a more centralized area in the next 10, 20 years.”
The county potentially could open the first floor and then expand offerings as the population warrants.
“We have space for 1,000 to 1,500 (people) in the upstairs room at the Central Library,” Coryea said. “That could happen in Lakewood Ranch.”
Coryea said design of the facility likely will have a “stand-out” feature of some kind, but still will be designed to blend in with the surrounding community.
Central Park resident Sonya Menard, who takes her 3-year-old daughter, Scarlett, to library programs at least once a week, attended the second of two “community conversations” Coryea has hosted with Lakewood Ranch-area residents. She hopes the future library will have a vibrant children’s section and hopefully a cafe concept.
Menard spent her summers reading “Nancy Drew,” “Sweet Valley Teens” and any other books she could check out.
“Children have voracious appetites,” she said. “I love I can go to the library and there’s so many different books. I can expose my daughter to different literary styles and illustrations.
“I would use it more, if it were closer,” she said.
In terms of location, Manatee County does not yet have a specific site identified but knows, in general terms, it will be within the Lakewood Centre development, which is made up of two parcels between Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road, and between State Road 64 and State Road 70.
Per development approvals more than 15 years ago, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch has reserved roughly two acres for a library, although no specific location was predetermined.
Coryea said the county hopes to have a site identified within the next 12 months.
“For completion, we’re still (saying) the next three to five years to be on the safe side,” Coryea said of timeline estimates. “The problem is we have money for construction, but we don’t have the operating costs.”
Coryea said the project will evolve by first building a network of Lakewood Ranch library supporters who will be willing to volunteer or serve on a Friends of the Library group, typically responsible for fundraising.
Coryea said she hopes to have two more meetings with interested community members — one gathering in the Mill Creek area and another in the Myakka area.
Manatee County has not lessened plans for the Braden River facility as a result of the future Lakewood Ranch site.
Judy Mullen, assistant supervisor for the Braden River Library, said an East County library would absorb some of Braden River’s patronage, but not enough to change Braden River’s needs. The branch issues about 300 new library cards per month.