It appears as a note on the bottom of the 72nd page of a 222-page budget workshop presentation, delivered to Sarasota County Commissioners last week.
But it was enough to elicit cheers from Longboat Key leaders and potentially serve as a milestone for a long-awaited addition to the island’s lifestyle.
Underneath a table that lists about $7.7 million for computer and circulation materials purchases for the Libraries and Historical Resources Department, $2 million in 2024 spending for a county history center and the expansion of the Fruitville Library and about $9 million for technology and books is a line that reads: “$1M in funding for future library design.’’
“One thing also I wanted to point out on the bottom of this slide,’’ said Carolyn Eastwood, Sarasota County’s director of capital projects, sitting alongside County Administrator Jonathan Lewis, “You see the note there, in accordance with direction received from the board on April 27th at the joint meeting with the town of Longboat Key, we are adding $1 million in funding for a future library design.’’
Town Manager Tom Harmer passed the word to Town Commissioners later that day with an email that began: “Good news!”
That $1 million added to the county’s 2023 capital improvement plan budget of $171.9 million is the first component of a series of requests Longboat Key leaders made of their county counterparts, with the goal of seeking financial assistance for the planning, design, construction and operation of a library/community center at the Town Center Green land.
Though County Commissioners did not immediately react to Eastwood’s budget-workshop update, Town Commissioners did to Harmer’s report. Harmer said Lewis indicated County Commissioners responded with support for the initiative.
“This is such good news Tom; an important first step in funding the project,’’ wrote Town Commissioner Penny Gold “Thank you for your leadership on this.’’
Town leaders approached County Commissioners earlier 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 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.
Town leaders also are in conversations with Sarasota County Schools to ascertain what potential contributions that government agency might contribute to an island library. The school board has scheduled its regularly planned 6 p.m. June 21 meeting at Longboat Key Town Hall because of work being performed on the Landings Administrative Complex board room. The town will make a short presentation on major initiatives including the Town Center project.
Conversations about the library project were scheduled as part of a June joint meeting with Manatee County leaders, though that meeting had to be put off, possibly until after the Longboat leaders' summer break.
In the meantime, town residents could see upgraded library services before the new year. County library officials are working with the Library Foundation for Sarasota County to launch a vehicle that could visit Longboat Key, along with other locations to help deliver library services not currently offered.
Among the services: delivery of electronically ordered books and other materials.
The foundation has donated $125,000 to that end. The customized vehicle, which is on order, would be staffed with a librarian and another employee to bring books and other services to locations without standalone library buildings.
“The pop-up vehicle will allow our staff to take library resources to underserved communities throughout Sarasota County," said Renee Di Pilato, director of libraries and historical resources. "We are grateful to the Library Foundation and Selby Foundation for supporting such a worthwhile expansion of library services.”