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This is what LBK wants

Longboaters want a community center and education center. A library branch is tertiary. Commissioners: Take control of the process.

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Slam the brakes, commissioners.

Slam them hard. 

Bring to a tire-burning, screeching halt all of the talk, the charettes and designing of an 8,000-square-foot public library on the Town Center Green.

That is not what Longboat Key residents want there. 

Sure, a public library branch — smaller than 8,000 square feet — would be a nice amenity for the Key. But let’s get this across for the umpteenth time: For nearly a quarter century, the residents of Longboat Key have expressed repeatedly their strong desire to have a combined community center/education center.

In fact, Monday’s charette at Town Hall on what Longboaters want in a public library branch illustrated one of the main points that always has driven the desire and need for a community center. There wasn’t enough room in the Town Commission chambers to accommodate the overflow crowd. 

As one attendee who has seen his share of high-intensity town meetings held in churches, temples and hotels quipped: “Looks like we need to move to the temple.”

As for an education center, we were told this past week that Temple Beth Israel’s gallantry in moving the Longboat Key Education Center to its facility two years ago has been so successful it needs more space to accommodate the growing number of lifelong learning attendees.

Surely, many of you remember this acronym: ACE. That was the term adopted when town commissioners, leaders of the Longboat Key Foundation and the Ringling College of Art and Design had partnered to develop what was dubbed the Longboat Key Arts, Culture & Education Center.

This is a conceptual rendering of a Longboat Key Arts, Culture & Education Center as envisioned when the town was in a partnership with the Ringling College of Art and Design in 2016.
Courtesy image

There was no “L” in there for library.

Flashback: We would urge Longboat town commissioners to go back to April 27, 2022, and watch the joint meeting of the Longboat Key Town Commission and the Sarasota County Commission. 

If you pay close attention, here is what you will hear:

Longboat Key Mayor Ken Schneier. After listening to a presentation from Renee Di Pilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources, about expanding library services to Longboat, Schneier said: 

“Our vision is a little broader. We’re talking about a community center that includes a library as an anchor part … But we’re probably looking at something more like these pictures that you conveniently left up on the screen, something along those lines.” 

The renderings to which he was referring depicted a community center at Town Center Green.

Schneier also told Sarasota County commissioners of a 2013 Urban Land Institute report to help guide Longboat Key’s future. One of ULI’s top recommendations: “Locate the community/cultural center at the town center.” 

Former Longboat Town Manager Tom Harmer. In his presentation at the joint meeting, Harmer also referred to a rendering depicting the future Town Center Green: “The two blue areas … can accommodate future buildings. The one on the southern end is our focus now as a priority with the commission saying, “Let’s start there and let’s look at how we can develop a community center there.”

Irwin Pastor, former Longboat commissioner and spokesman for the Education Center at Temple Beth Israel: Addressing the joint commission meeting, Pastor noted: 

“Having a renowned education center on Longboat Key is a major edge which offers us sustainability for the future … If feasible, the Education Center at TBI is requesting the town of Longboat Key seek Sarasota County funding for a community center that includes an education center component for the upcoming fiscal budget.”

Despite these clear, unambiguous references to a community center and education center, here is what happened after that meeting: The county and town’s top administrators commandeered what is to be developed — not what the citizens of Longboat Key want, but what they want and what is easiest for them — a public library branch.

Longboat commissioners: Take back control of this process. Put Longboaters in charge. 

What’s more, if a library is to be, then do the obvious: Tear down the town’s private library and use county money to build its branch on that site, not at Town Center Green.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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