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Commissioners agree on largest reasonable Longboat Key library

An enhanced library would be nearly 10,000 square feet, part of which will need to be funded through private donors.

An early concept shows the size of what the enhanced library building could be.
An early concept shows the size of what the enhanced library building could be.
Courtesy image
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It was time to give Sarasota County some final direction on the public library project. 

At the April 1 commission meeting, Town Manager Howard Tipton and staff asked commissioners to provide an agreed upon direction to give to the county as design concepts are finalized this month.

Support Services Director Carolyn Brown led the presentation on April 1. Brown has been the town’s lead on the project. 

She recapped that at the March 18 meeting, Tipton mentioned the potential at the Whitney Plaza Community Center, which takes on some of the need for community space. Brown also summarized Sarasota County’s previous presentation about core library elements and the enhancement suggestions. 

The core library space will be about 8,000 square feet and include a lobby, collections space, community meeting space, public computers and room for offices. 

Proposed enhancements bring the building to about 9,700 square feet, adding more space to the community meeting space and an exterior deck. 

Sarasota County will incur the cost of the core library construction, and the town will be responsible for raising funds for the enhancements through private donors. The county will be responsible for operating costs once the library is up and running. 

One of the key topics throughout the previous meetings was the enhanced community meeting space. 

Brown said the architects may be able to increase the size of the enhanced room to accommodate up to 256 people in row seating, rather than the previous estimate of 200 people. That’s still up in the air, Brown said, as more work needs to be done to assess the impacts. 

Aside from that, the elements of the library had not changed since the March 18 meeting. 

Tipton clarified for commissioners that the direction needed was whether or not to go forward with the larger enhanced vision. 

“We (staff) are recommending that we pursue the largest reasonable space that can be provided,” Tipton said.

District 5 Commissioner Sarah Karon discussed ideas for the aesthetics of the building and said she hopes the architects will take into account the elliptical nature of the park and existing pathway.

She also recommended that the county include space for a Friends of the Library program early in the design rather than try to fit it in later. 

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said that the county promised a lot of programming for the library, much of which won’t be possible without an enhanced meeting space. He suggested this could lead to future discussions about a larger financial contribution from the county down the road. 

Commissioner-At-Large BJ Bishop agreed. 

“What (the county) are suggesting is programs that will need larger space than what they’re creating,” Bishop said. “I would probably urge those who are doing the negotiating with the county to ask the county to provide for what they plan on providing to the public.”

Floor plans for the core library plus enhancements, which include a larger meeting room and exterior space.
Courtesy image

Some commissioners also added that mindful scheduling will be necessary to account for parking. For instance, it wouldn’t be wise to schedule a large library event on the same day as an event at the Tennis Center or the Temple Beth Israel. 

Former Longboat Key Mayor and Chairman of the Longboat Key Foundation Jim Brown was the only public comment on the matter.

He asked why these types of conversations weren’t happening months ago, and he said he doesn’t believe the large enhanced library is what the people want. Rather, he said the community center element should be explored on a separate site. 

Mayor Ken Schneier expressed his disappointment about Jim Brown’s change in attitude toward the project. 

“I'm disappointed in your comments tonight, because I thought that we were going to be able to count on you as a participant in this project to get it right,” Schneier said. “I'm afraid there has been some backsliding since the last time you and I spoke, which is unfortunate, because this project is gonna go forward. We're going to do the best that we possibly can for this town.” 

Schneier added that he hopes Jim Brown can become part of the project again down the road. 

Commissioners reached a consensus to advocate for the largest reasonable enhancements and await a more refined design from the architects. 

Next steps

Carolyn Brown said the architects expect to have concepts finalized by mid-to-late April. 

After those are finalized, the construction manager will provide a cost estimate, which will give a breakdown of how much is needed for the enhancements. 

In Carolyn Brown’s presentation, she said the Library Foundation for Sarasota County will serve as the fundraising arm for the enhancements and that fundraising will need to occur from May to August to make the project happen. 

Karon currently serves as the president of the Library Foundation for Sarasota County.

Schneier said that if not all the required funds are raised in this period, it might be an opportunity for further conversation with the county. 

“We're going to do the best we can to raise the money we can. And, if for some reason we fall a little short of what's necessary, we're going to talk to (the county).”



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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